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After 20 Years in the Music Business, Meshell Ndegeocello Still Defines The Rebirth of Cool

meshellSwag, a more modern equivalent of cool, is an important commodity in the genre of hip hop—perhaps the most important. But one of the greatest ironies of the music industry is that the artist with perhaps the most swag of all is a 46-year-old female soul/jazz bassist and poet born in Berlin: Meshell Ndegeocello.

After 20 years in the music business, racking up 10 Grammy nomination for her 11 albums, Ndegeocello gave a rare interview with NBC before her sold-out show at New York’s Lincoln Center. Ndegeocello is much more content to let her funky bass licks and intoxicatingly smooth voice do the talking for her. But she had some interesting takes on a number of topics that she walked through with writer Karu Daniels.

On the fact that although she has an international cult following and has worked with half of the music business, she still isn’t close to a household name:

“At the end of the day, 20 years down the line, you’re only left with yourself and your music.”

On not winning a Best R&B Grammy for her masterpiece Plantation Lullabies in 1995, when she went up against Tevin Campbell, Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, Gladys Knight and Boyz II Men (who won the award):

“Once you wise up and see how that works, you’ll see that other people’s accolades don’t take away from the quality of the music. So, I just try to maintain quality and positivity throughout all of it. ”

On her connection to Nina Simone, whose music inspired the 2012 album Pour une Ame Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone.

“Whenever I deal with this music, it’s just more about her and reminding people of her musical prowess, also reminding people of her struggle — especially with what’s going on in the music industry today about how artists don’t own their publishing or their royalty rights. I think of it as an education just to remind people of those that came before us and have gone through the same struggle that we still have now and just to make connections.”

-10.19.12.Meshell.Ndegeocello.3Of her ability to cover great songs but still make them her own:

“Well, it’s funny [because] I got it from her. Nina [was] great at that. I mean look at her version of ‘Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.’ I think [The Animals] have sold more records but hers is the quintessential version. Her ability to take a Leonard Cohen song (‘Suzanne’) and make it her own is a testament of her improvisational ability and greatness and that’s definitely the one thing I try to celebrate with her is that she’s the one who inspired me to look at songs just as songs and try to put your own character inside of them.”

On her desire to teach:

“I mean I’m just trying not to end up in Vegas. I feel just lucky to be here. I’ve had a great experience and next year I’m trying to head into education because now it’s time to help others see their ideas to fruition. I’m just happy to be here and live the life I’ve had and I’ve seen a lot. And I’m also okay with ‘this too shall pass,’ ‘this too ends,’ and ‘all things come to an end,’ so I’m trying to find other things that keep me excited and interested in life. I know a lot about recording and I know a lot about Sonics and I just want to be helpful and try to get the best out of artists. And also it’s good to have people around who may see things that you may not see in yourself, Ya know?”

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