Me'shell N'dgeocello Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape

After delivering the stunning acoustically and emotionally bare Bitter three years ago, Cookie... in many ways finds Me'Shell N'dgeocello coming full circle. The political stridency, doctrinal critique and unflinching arena of sexual politics that has always been present in differing doses in her work finds a balance here, making it her most mature effort to date. On Cookie..., N'dgeocello is in the mood to convey these things in a historical context, and there are many nods to figures from African American literary and oratory figures, such as Angela Davis and poet June Jordan, who unfortunately passed away in the last month. N'dgeocello wants to continue the tradition and uses the metaphor of the mix-tape - a way of passing cultural knowledge that sidesteps conventional notions of economy and law - to communicate her uncompromising ideals. The superbly propulsive "Hot Night," with Talib Kweli, finds N'degeocello musing on the "plight of the revolutionary soul singer," and elsewhere she wrestles with communicating with those caught up in materialism. But centrally, Cookie... finds N'degeocello presenting her sexual politics. On "Barry Farms," which musically revisits her roots in the Washington go-go scene, she resists being fetishised by a female lover, and on "Trust" and "Pocketbook," she defines her sexual boundaries. Cast against the sound bites of poetry and speeches from the African American cultural figures, N'degeocello is articulating for a space to be included within that dialogue and tradition, and for her to do this, love is a political act. The powerful nature of Me'shell's music is belied by the mellifluous grooves that accompany most of the record, and therefore ensures it unfolds favourably over repeated listening. Her fusion of soul and jazz continues to reach for new directions, and on Cookie..., at times this does lead to some leaden pacing, but when it all comes together, the results are mesmerising. Co-producer Cato helps to restore the throbbing low-end to Me'Shell's music, and vocal contributions from former Soul II Soul vocalist Caron Wheeler and Lalah Hathaway, daughter of Donny, genuinely complement Me'Shell's gravely, often spoken voice. This explorative nature of the record doesn't make it radio-friendly, which makes the inclusion of the "Pocketbook" remix, obviously targeted for the airwaves, so jarring. Instead, it's a record with ideas and music that stands firm for acceptance on its own terms. (Maverick)