Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
Never one to shirk a challenge, Meshell Ndegeocello made some waves earlier this year when she released her devotional version of Prince’s mournful ballad “Sometimes It Snows in April.” Among the Purple One’s hardcore acolytes, the song is an untouchable classic, and although Meshell has touted Prince throughout her career as a key influence on her own music, in 2014, she resurrected a beef with him over his return to Warner Brothers that didn’t sit too well with his fanbase, and hasn’t since. Regardless, the song is a centerpiece of her latest covers project Ventriloquism , and rightfully so. Going all the way back to her 1993 debut Plantation Lullabies , Ndegeocello has alchemized the collective essence of hip-hop, funk and soul into something uniquely hers: a complete realignment of the Vibe -era “mack diva” aesthetic, stitched through with a wealth of incisive commentary on sex, gender, power dynamics and the Afrocentric (and Afrofuturist) experience. That sounds like a mouthful, but somehow she gives it a voice even when she’s playing other people’s music. Her take on Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s ‘80s bubblegum dance floor hit “I Wonder If I Take You Home” is stone-funky self-determination-as-foreplay, while The System’s “Don’t Disturb This Groove” somehow sounds dreamier and more lovestruck than the original. With an outstanding crew of musicians on board (guitarist Chris Bruce, keyboardist Jebin Bruni and drummer Abraham Rounds), she can even pull the seemingly immovable tech-funk stomp of George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” into strange new cosmic vistas of deep-space blues—not an easy feat with such a game-changing lodestone so firmly locked in its time and place. But forget the risk or reward; Ndegeocello’s willingness to take on any musical goal she sets for herself is usually more than enough.