Decades before Nu-Soul newbie Janelle Monae crooned ‘Categorize me, I defy every label‘ on her recent hit ‘Q.U.E.E.N‘ (featuring Erykah Badu), American singer/rapper/songwriter Me’Shell NdegeOcello had laid down a sophisticated foundation that would eventually become the blueprint followed by the likes of Monae, along with Neo-Soul pioneers like Badu, Jill Scott, Maxwell as well as genre-blending newer artists like Bruno Mars, Solange and Pharrell.
NdegeOcello’s genre-busting sumptuous 1993 smash ‘If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)‘ from her début album ‘Plantation Lullabies‘ – a stellar and seamless amalgamation of 70’s and 80’s Synth-Funk, Jazz, lilting Pop-Reggae and quintessential Hip Hop – became an unlikely crossover hit on mainstream radio, garnering the feisty songstress the first three of her ten Grammy nominations. Heavy rotation of the song’s music video on MTV (which until then could only boast of Janet Jackson as one of the few black female artists to release socially conscious music videos) suddenly exposed the youth to a sonic and visual extravaganza that broke many a taboo the Hip Hop community was used to, particularly about sexuality and race – as Me’Shell was openly bisexual.
Hence it wasn’t much of a surprise when ‘If That’s Your Boyfriend‘ received two nominations at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards – including nods for Best New Video and Best Female Video (she lost to Janet Jackson’s ‘If‘ in the latter category).
Back in the day, the VMA’s rarely catered to a left field hit like NdegeOcello, hence the fact that she bagged the nominations itself was a major achievement.
Today we give a much-deserved shout-out to Me’Shell NdegeOcello’s singular style and defiant swagger. Browsing through my old collection of her albums (my faves are ‘Plantation Lullabies‘, 1996’s ‘Peace Beyond Passion‘ and 2007’s ‘The World Has Made Me The Man Of My Dreams‘), it was hard for me to miss NdegeOcello’s significant influence on some of my fave artists today – including Solange and Monae.
Of course her megawatt lyrics were what won me over initially – I still remember gawking back in the day when she ferociously spat ‘So call me what you like/Go ahead call me what you like/While I boot slam your boyfriend tonight’. And these were some of her tamer lyrics as compared to her heavier stuff like ‘Leviticus : Faggot‘ and ‘Soul On Ice’.
She was an unlikely, yet natural superstar!
Check out Me’Shell NdegeOcello’s ‘If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)‘ right here :