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Sexual Revolution


Meshell Ndegeocello: Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape

Maverick/Warner Brothers, 2002

Rating: 3.8



Posted: June 23, 2002

By Laurence Station

Genre-bending R&B iconoclast Meshell Ndegeocello's greatest strength has always been her laser-like explorations of the many political facets of human interaction, be they cultural, sexual or social. Mixing the personal concerns explored on her last release, 1999's Bitter, with the more politically minded, "can't we all get along" issues found on 1996's Peace Beyond Passion, Ndegeocello tosses all of her standard themes into one pot for the aptly-named Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape, instead of tackling them individually as she's done on prior releases. The resulting R&B/rap/rock/soul-flavored hybrid makes for an intriguing, confrontational and often indulgent listen. But Ndegeocello fares best when she limits her lyrical scope to personal beliefs and interactions with those around her. When she gestures beyond the realm of her own experience, or attempts to present an omniscient voice speaking out against the ills plaguing the world, her reach definitely exceeds its grasp.

Cookie opens on a strong note with "Dead Nigga Blvd. (Part 1)," one of the few politically charged songs on the album that manages to hold together. It does so primarily because of its message (every person must take responsibility for his/her own actions) and also because of solid production work of Ndegeocello's main collaborator, Allen Cato. "Hot Night*" rides on an excellent hook, brought down only slightly by invasive speech samples (courtesy of activist Angela Davis) railing against the Prison Industrial Complex and the plight of welfare mothers, all wrapped within a vague revolutionary soul socialist agenda that seems ill-suited to a widely marketed and sold commercial product. Good song; poor attempt at forcing an agenda down the throats of decidedly consumer-minded capitalists. A similar polemic urgency overtakes "Jabril," in which the sound of gunshots leads into a defiant plea for peace adamant that we not deify fallen gangbangers such as Tupac and Biggie Smalls, punctuated by piercing guitar riffs and gifted drumwork.

By contrast, "Pocketbook" is fresh and funky, offering the infinitely more digestible idea of "love as the root politic" and an infectious beat propelling the album's standout track. A bloated remix tacked on to the end (no doubt for radio-friendly play, as evidenced by an all-star cast of hip-hop heavyweights: Missy Elliot, Rockwilder, Redman and Tweet) definitely pales by comparison. "Better By The Pound" mixes earthly desires with loftier spiritual concerns, highlighted by some skillful tenor sax work, courtesy of Jacques Schwarz-Bart. "Criterion" builds on the jazzy vibe of "Pound," and strengthens the album's overall sound by allowing the talented session musicians to stretch their collective legs a bit and just jam. "GOD.FEAR.MONEY" while not possessed of a hook nearly as memorable as "Hot Night*," manages to accomplish what that song does not: Marrying its message with the music in a way that allows one to groove to the beat and remember the chorus.

But Ndegeocello's brilliance shines brightest when she forsakes all of the rallies and protests and simply focuses on getting laid. "Barry Farms" and "Trust" are sequenced together to form a nice couplet examining Ndegeocello's dual sexuality; one song flowing effortlessly into the other, reinforcing the notion that it's the person, not the gender, that stirs the artist's ever-questing heart.

Cookie is an intentionally conflicted album, and the incongruity and inherent messiness of politics actually works in its favor. Ndegeocello obviously uses her music as an outlet for personal as well as global concerns, and will continue to do so as long as people plunk down hard earned cash for her music. Yet it's still product, like Nike shoes, BMWs and Victoria's Secret lingerie. Hammering an agenda home might work within the framework of a political manifesto, but when it comes to making noise people groove or dance to, the message will more often than not find itself in grave danger of getting drowned out by a cleverly sequenced beat.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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