Before Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, rapper/singer Me’Shell NdegéOcello injected hip-hop with the adrenaline of alternative, organic soul humming with the politics of sex and “black-on-black love.” A significant influence on Madonna (her boss at Maverick), NdegéOcello’s debut, Plantation Lullabies, is the quintessential hip-hop album, mixing the soul of Sly Stone and the funk of James Brown with the pop sensibilities of Prince and the grace of Lena Horne. The album’s lead single, “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night),” was the most unlikely of hits with the most unlikely of pop hooks: “Boyfriend, boyfriend/Yes I had your boyfriend.” If anyone had ever doubted that the civil rights movement was still alive and necessary, Plantation Lullabies exists to prove them otherwise. “Soul on Ice” bitterly challenges the motivations of interracial coupling: “You no longer burn for the motherland brown skin/You want blond-haired, blue-eyed soul.” She scratches at the surface of a culture defined by a capitalistic (read: white) standard of beauty on the track “Shoot’n Up & Gett’n High.” Her warning is filled with both remorse and hostility: “The white man shall forever sleep with one eye open.” Drugs provide her cliched escape and, ultimately, her salvation (“We both found God when he O.D.’d”). While much of the album is a work of young rage, it’s the platform from which NdegéOcello has evolved and defied the bounds of hip-hop.
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