Where Are They Now: Meshell Ndegeocello

10.31.2010

By Dustin Fitzharris

Despite having earned a tough rep for being an "angry, black, gay person," Meshell Ndegeocello is timid and reserved when she answers the phone. She later reveals that she gets nervous during interviews. It's clear that the 42-year-old, who was born in Berlin and raised in Washington D.C., is nothing like the image she's become known for.

Even with 10 Grammy nominations and eight albums, her latest Devil's Halo, under her belt, Ndegeocello, which means 'free like a bird' in Swahili, continues to push for more. Yet the one thing she still hasn't received is understanding. Even after being in the public eye for close to 20 years, people still ask: 'Who is Meshell Ndegeocello?' Not to mention: 'How do you pronounce her name?' (In case you're wondering, it's Mee-shell N-deh-gay-o-chel-o.)

What can't be denied is the passion that comes through in her lyrics. Take for example a tune called "Leviticus: Faggot,' off her second album, which focuses on how organized religion treats minorities. It's that strength and her refusal to follow other singers that landed her in the 1996 Out 100.

Today, she's the mother of two and has been in a relationship with her partner, Alison, for five years. Although much has changed in her life since her debut album, Plantation Lullabies in 1993, the one thing that remains constant is her brass: No matter what, Ndegeocello speaks her mind.

Out: On your website it says you have given up on trying to explain yourself.
Meshell Ndegeocello: Yeah, I had to.

What is the biggest misconception about you?
Do you have any?

Are you reversing the roles here?
No, I just don't have any idea. I think early on when the music business was a little different, and they had to create some sort of persona to sell, I think I got sold as this angry, black, gay person. I think that's a huge misconception. Other than that, I don't really think about it. That's why I had to ask you.

You once told NPR: "Either you do it for the music, or you want to be a star."
I think there's some gray area in between there, but go ahead.

Well, they are two different things. When you look back on the career that you've had, are you satisfied?
Oh, definitely. It's been fun. It's what has helped me get to where I am now. I can pretty much play any kind of music I want to. I can stay creative. I don't have to be locked down to a persona or a generalization for a marketing team. It's scary sometimes just because you don't know what the next thing is going to be, but creatively it's great. You can just stay ' I hate to say true. I don't really believe in the word true. I can stay honest with my idea.

What is the difference between true and honest?
Truth is subjective. I think honest, if a person is saying it, they are trying to give an adjective to their intentions.

How is the Meshell of today different from the Meshell of 1993, when your debut album was released?
I've lived a little longer, so I've had varied experiences. I have more things to use when making choices. Not to generalize, but I think when you're in your early twenties, you have a bravado or a sense of 'I'm going to take the bull by the balls' attitude.

Not by the horns?
By the balls! I don't really have that now. I really don't need to have that experience anymore. I'm more about the inner sanctum of who I'm trying to be and not trying to look into the future. Just have a now kind of experience.

Tags: Out100 2010
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