I’ll be damned if I can figure it out: the rise and fall of Neneh Cherry is one of the most unexplainable things to happen in the idustry for as long as I’ve been a music fan. Swedish-born Cherry burst onto the scene in the summer of ’89 with her hip-hop/dance stylings on the smash single “Buffalo Stance”. An attractive female with a social conscience who was rappin’ and singin’ on her records (at the same time) four years before Lauryn Hill blessed the mic (and seven years before L-Boogie became a star), Cherry got Grammy nominations (including a nod for the memorable 1989 Best New Artist prize that eventually went to legends Milli Vanilli) and much critical acclaim.
How many of you out there know that Neneh recorded and released a follow-up?
1992’s Homebrew came harder with both the MC skills and the social commentary, and despite intriguing lyrics, fantastic production (courtesy of Cherry and Cameron McVey AKA Booga Bear, who Neneh more commonly calls “my husband”) and guest appearances from superstars of rock & hip-hop, the album didn’t chart, and Cherry immediately dropped off the pop music radar, at least in the U.S.
That’s a damn shame, because this album is as excellent as any released by any other femcee/singer there is-with the possible exception of “Miseducation”. Actually, upon listening to Homebrew-maybe it’s a little ahead of it’s time? Or maybe it’s just too damn eclectic. How many albums can you think of that make room for a little brag-rap courtesy of Gang Starr’s guest shot on “Sassy” and a little crunchy rock via the Michael Stipe duet “Trout”? Shit, how many other artists had enough talent to collaborate with DJ Premier and Stipe and hold their own? Well, KRS-ONE did, but besides him?
Two commercial singles were released from the album (“Trout” was released to alternative radio and actually became a sizable hit at that format). “Money Love” is sort of a second cousin to “Buffalo Stance”, with a crunchy riff tearing through the chorus. Second single “Buddy X” is a funkier jam that sets it’s laser sights on a formerly-dreadlocked rock singer by the name of Lenny Kravitz (at least according to rumor). Neneh was apparently incensed at the way that he was treating his soon-to-be-ex-wife Lisa Bonet (Neneh and Lenny were labelmates, and I’m sure a corporate request was made at some point for the two of them to work together), and the lyrics attack “Buddy X” for creating a false family image and hiding his dalliances with other women. It’s worth it for the way Neneh spits out the like “there’s a hypocrite that lives in you”. It’s also worth noting that the “Buddy X” remix marked one of the earliest recorded appearances by a young Notorious B.I.G.
Neneh looks at her own jaundiced view of relationships on the song “Twisted”. This atmospheric, ambient song finds Neneh confronting a new lover and wondering if their relationship will last in the face of “twisted tongues (that) bring us down” and “this twisted the world we’re living in”. By the end of the chorus she wonders if “i’m the one that’s twisted too…thinking we’ll make it through”.
Homebrew is an excellent meld of many musical styles. Although Raw Like Sushi got the props (and the sales), Neneh’s follow-up is a much more fully realized album. Equal parts Alanis Morissette, Janet Jackson & MC Lyte, Neneh was (and still is) an exceptional talent. It’s a shame that the commercial failure of Homebrew caused her to drop off of the American radar and stop releasing albums here. She’s popped up collaborating with artists as diverse as Youssou N’Dour, Gorillaz and Cher over the years, and she released a well-received album overseas (1996’s ambitious but not always successful Man). Most recently, she’s popped up as a member of the group CirKus, a group that also features her husband and daughter. You’ll hear more from them on this site very soon.
Homebrew is certainly one of the more successful attempts at musical eclecticism made over the past two decades. Virgin Records definitely dropped the ball with this one. Make sure you don’t do the same.
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