Meshell Ndegeocello Is Back With a New Album—‘Devil’s Halo’

“I get a lot more criticism,” says the jazz-funk veteran, “from people of color when I’m in a relationship with someone outside my race.”

Mark Seliger

Fearless. Naked. Meshell Ndegeocello always seems to leave herself exposed.

Her latest disc, Devil’s Halo (Downtown/Mercer) picks up where the sonic assault of her previous album (2007’s The World Made Me The Man of My Dream) left off. Again Ndegeocello eschews the R&B art-funk that distinguished her ’90s material as a gripping ménage of rock, pop, ska and punk. In an exclusive interview with The Root, Ndegeocello talks candidly about her wounded love ballads—as well as how she deals with the backlash that comes with her wanton spirit.

The Root: It seems the mythical “Devil” plays a crucial role all of your new songs.

Meshell Ndegeocello: [Laughs.] The devil has always been one of the most intriguing characters—a former angel who suffered from a broken heart, and eventually jealousy, more than anything else. He became this evil dark lord. It’s one of those, “I hurt, so I’m going to make everyone else feel what I feel.” That’s pretty human. I really relate to that.

TR: Some songs on the new disc—“Slaughter,” “Crying in Your Beer” and “Bright Shiny Morning” are filled with snarky humor, but also emotional wreckage and naked honesty. Did you write them from personal experiences or from observations?

MN: A little bit of both. “Crying in Your Beer”—I had a few family members in my life pass away. I haven’t experienced that with my parents, but I know I’m getting closer to that point. That overwhelms my subconscious. So I used that and other little stories to illustrate how we’re all searching for immortality through fame or other ways. That’s why in one song I end, “There is no encore.” Maybe there is no encore. I’ve been asking myself that for a while.

TR: What about “Slaughter”? It’s sung from such a painful, passive/aggressive position: “She said she loved me/ I run away/ Don’t say you love me/ I’ll run away/ My love will leave you slaughtered.”

MN: “Slaughter” is a little autobiographical. You have to learn how to love, I guess. No one really has a manual of how to do that.

TR: In “White Girl,” you weave in elements of whiteness as being pure and innocent. Were you exploring the idea that some people of color give white people more benefit of the doubt, emotionally, than we do to other people of color?

MN: It’s a play on words, a joke about the puritanical white beauty. But what I’m trying to say is that love is about the attraction and the warmth that we have for each other. I feel like I get a lot more criticism from people of color when I’m in a relationship with someone outside my race. So I’m playing with the idea of the white beauty, but our feelings are what’s most important—the fact that the two people actually love each other.