“Bitter” by Me’shell NdegeOcello (1999)

Bitter was the first of many stylistic shifts for Me’Shell NdegeOcello. Recorded in the aftermath of a romantic breakup, the singer/songwriter/bassist’s third album largely eschewed the socio-political funk and hip-hop jams that dominated her first two efforts in favor of intimate folk/pop with an orchestral sweep. The lyrics followed suit. Bitter’s title track is a highlight. It’s best listened to on headphones. If the delicate acoustic guitar doesn’t sweep you up, Me’Shell’s singing-which appears to come from a place of absolute brokenness-will.

I’ve always been a fan of Me’shell’s shape-shifting. Black musicians are way too often placed in a box, looked at (by black folks and non-black folks) weirdly if they make records that don’t conform to the perceived definitions of rap and R&B. Me’shell famously said in an interview that she hates the fact that Black radio thought “all we listen to is hip-hop and R. Kelly” (this was around 2002, for reference.) Of course, her comfort with shape-shifting might have something to do with being the first “out” Black female artist I can think of. Certainly the first out artist that had something to do directly with hip-hop. Once you’re out sexually, adopting a fluid existence in other facets of life (and giving less of a fuck what people think about it) comes more easily.

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