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Seven Grammy nominations. Four albums. A dozen soundtrack cuts. Seven years of electrifying live performances worldwide. Immeasurable kudos from musical idols and peers. Countless musical offspring. Still, MESHELL NDEGÉOCELLO remains an underground phenomenon, the artist everybody knows, the artist every musician studies, but the artist that seems unattached to the lure of commercial success. "I just make beats," she says, "I play my bass, express myself, search, and that's it. Whatever else does or doesn't come with that in terms of the way people respond, that's cool. Bottom line, it's got to be sincere and its got to be funky."
Born in Berlin, Germany and raised in Washington D.C., Meshell adopted the name Ndegéocello as a teenager, which means "free like a bird" in Swahili. She discovered her musical gift under the tutelage of her father, jazz saxophonist Jacques Johnson. Self-taught on the bass, guitar, keyboards, and drums, Ndegéocello became a permanent fixture in the go-go clubs of D.C. and was soon courted by several labels, including Prince's Paisley Park imprint. In 1993 she became the first female artist signed to Madonna's Maverick Records and, shortly thereafter, burst onto the grunge-rock dominated music scene with her groundbreaking, genre-busting debut, Plantation Lullabies. With memorable tracks like "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)" and "Outside Your Door," Plantation Lullabies earned her three Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist, and Bassist of the Year from Bass Player Magazine (the first woman to win that honor).
Ndegéocello's next two efforts, Peace Beyond Passion and Bitter, went on to garner four more Grammy nominations and wide critical acclaim. Her live performances have become legendary. A prolific writer with over 200 unreleased songs, non-album Ndegéocello tunes have appeared in films such as The Hurricane, Batman & Robin, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Down in the Delta, The Best Man, Higher Learning, White Man's Burden, and Love Jones. She has also scored films (A Time for Dancing, 2001 and Disappearing Acts, 2000) and composed for dance companies (Winifred B. Harris Dance and Trajal Harrel Dance). In the course of her career, Ndegéocello has worked with artists such as Prince, Lenny Kravitz, John Mellencamp, The Rolling Stones, Indigo Girls, Alanis Morissette, George Clinton, Herbie Hancock, Steve Coleman, Marcus Miller, Chaka Khan, Scritti Politti, Vanessa Williams, Eric Benet, and Madonna. Though ever defying categorization, Ndegéocello's style and sound definitively paved the way for new soul singers such as D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Maxwell, Jill Scott, India.Arie, Alicia Keys, and Glenn Lewis.
With sold-out shows, press reviews, and wide-spread industry excitement for the June 2002 release of Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape, Ndegéocello seems to be on the brink of going from underground icon to "cha-ching" selling artist. In Meshell's words, "Sure, that would be great, but will it matter if I'm not a good person? That's really all I'm trying to do."