Elysa Gardner
June 21, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Me’Shell Ndegeocello is a survivor of post-album depression. After her debut disc, Plantation Lullabies, was released in 1993 to wild acclaim, establishing the 27-year-old singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist as one of the freshest and most passionate voices in contemporary R&B, she found herself in a funk. ”Actually, I think I was having a spiritual death,” Ndegeocello (her surname means ”free like a bird” in Swahili) muses. ”I had thought that making a record would solve my problems — lift my self-esteem, make people from my past love me the way I wanted to be loved. But instead, I felt as if every bit of joy I had was dying…. I remember that on the day Kurt Cobain died, I was pretty much feeling the same way he did — like I should just end it all now.”

Fortunately, Ndegeocello — whom rock fans may remember as John Mellencamp’s duet partner on his 1994 hit ”Wild Night” — didn’t yield to her self-destructive impulses. Her second album, Peace Beyond Passion, is as sensuous and poignant as its predecessor was incendiary. While still dealing unsparingly with social problems like racism and violence, as well as romantic angst, she infuses her new material with a soulful sense of hope and longing. ”My last album came from a very angry place,” Me’Shell admits. ”This time, I was just in search of a reason to live. And to find God, I guess.”

Ndegeocello’s quest led her to a number of books on history and religion, including the most obvious one. ”I started reading the Bible heavily,” she laughs. ”I mean, I was becoming totally obsessed with it.” Many of the songs on Peace combine allusions to the Good Book with references to latter-day events, often drawing on personal experience. The singer — who lives in Los Angeles and has a 7-year-old son named Askia — defines herself as openly bisexual. And ”Leviticus: Faggot,” the album’s unflinching first single, was inspired by a gay friend who was beaten to death. ”I’ve seen people gay-bashed in the streets, like, four times,” Ndegeocello says. ”But the song is really dealing with the fact that people are attacked for being so many things, whether it’s that they’re black or Jewish or gay.”

Nonetheless, given her positive new outlook, Ndegeocello is optimistic that more and more people will consider her lifestyle, and her music, with an open mind. ”My goal with this album is to show people that skin color doesn’t matter, that alternative is a meaningless word, and that you shouldn’t categorize things. I’m hoping that the woman sitting at home in Ohio and the kid in New York City will both check it out, and bring to it and take from it what they want. That’s all I can really ask for, you know?”

You May Like