Neneh Cherry forged a groundbreaking mix of genres in the late '80s that presaged the emergence of alternative rap and trip-hop, and through the 2010s she has gradually added to a discography filled with similarly unpredictable twists.
The singer, songwriter, rapper, and producer got her start in the U.K. post-punk scene before she made a mainstream breakthrough as a solo artist with the global smash hit "Buffalo Stance," which sent her eclectic solo debut, Raw Like Sushi (1989), to the Top Ten charts in several countries, and led to a Grammy nomination in the category of Best New Artist. Rather than follow the standard path of a commercial musician, Cherry has opted instead to record solo albums every few years, and has assisted on material headlined by artists ranging from Peter Gabriel to Gorillaz. During the 2010s, she recorded a series of wildly creative albums, namely The Cherry Thing (2012), Blank Project (2014), and Broken Politics (2018).
Born Neneh Mariann Karlsson on March 10, 1964, in Stockholm, Sweden, Neneh Cherry is the daughter of West African percussionist Ahmadu Jah and artist Moki Cherry. Raised by her mother and trumpeter stepfather Don Cherry in Stockholm and New York City, Cherry left school at age 14, and in 1980 relocated to London to sing with the post-punk group the Cherries. Following flings with the Slits and the Nails, she joined the experimental funk/post-punk outfit Rip Rig + Panic and appeared on the group's albums God (1981), I Am Cold (1982), and Attitude (1983). During this period, she also recorded with New Age Steppers and as one-third of the one-off group Raw Sex, Pure Energy. When Rip Rig + Panic broke up, Cherry remained with one of the spin-off groups, Float Up CP, and led them through Kill Me in the Morning (1985). The next year, she was featured on "Slow Train to Dawn," a single off the The's Soul Mining.
In 1987, Cherry and fellow artist Cameron McVey (aka Booga Bear) became long-term creative and personal partners after they met as models for Ray Petri, creator of the Buffalo fashion house. Later that year, Cherry co-wrote and was featured on a B-side version of Morgan/McVey's Stock Aitken Waterman-produced "Looking Good Diving," titled "Looking Good Diving with the Wild Bunch." Signed to the Circa label, Cherry hit the U.K. singles chart as a solo artist in December 1988 with "Buffalo Stance," itself a revamped version of "Looking Good Diving with the Wild Bunch." The Bomb the Bass collaboration reached number three in the U.K. (and performed similarly well in several other territories). Furthermore, the song neatly forecast the eclectic fusion of pop smarts and knowing hip-hop energy showcased throughout the parent album, Raw Like Sushi. A number two (and eventually platinum) U.K. hit issued in June 1989, the LP featured executive production from McVey and additional input from the likes of Will Malone and Nellee Hooper, as well as Mushroom and 3D of Massive Attack. A pair of additional singles, "Manchild" and "Kisses on the Wind," followed "Buffalo Stance," as did a nomination for a Grammy in the category of Best New Artist (won by Milli Vanilli).
After she contributed to the benefit album Red Hot + Blue (with an interpretation of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin") and Massive Attack's Blue Lines (as co-writer, arranger, and background vocalist on "Hymn of the Big Wheel"), Cherry returned with her second album, Homebrew, in 1992. A more subdued collection than Raw Like Sushi, the number 27 U.K. chart entry featured cameos from Gang Starr and Michael Stipe, and writing and production assistance from McVey, Jonny Dollar, and Geoff Barrow (pre-dating the latter's emergence with Portishead). Cherry returned to the charts in 1994 as Youssou N'Dour's duet partner on "7 Seconds," another global hit, but was otherwise on child-raising hiatus until 1996, when she resurfaced with Man, a number 16 U.K. hit containing "7 Seconds," an update of Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man" (featuring piano from half-brother Eagle-Eye), and "Woman," an empowering response to James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World." A remix version of the album, simply titled Remixes, followed in 1998. Cherry prioritized family life well into the new millennium, and cropped up with intermittent activity, including collaborations with Live's Edward Kowalczyk ("Walk Into This Room"), Peter Gabriel (OVO), and Gorillaz ("Kids with Gunz"), as well as recordings with her band cirKus.
Cherry returned in the 2010s with some of her most progressive recordings yet. For 2012's The Cherry Thing, she fronted the Thing, the experimental Scandinavian jazz trio whose founding mission was to play her stepfather's music. The album mixed originals with imaginative reworkings of songs initially recorded by the likes of Ornette Coleman, the Stooges, Suicide, and indeed, Don Cherry. In 2013, she collaborated with London duo RocketNumberNine on their album MeYouWeYou, and worked with them on her long-awaited fourth proper studio album, Blank Project. Produced by Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet), the album was released in 2014 and consisted of originals written by Cherry with McVey and Paul Simm. Another set with Hebden on production, the meditative and undaunted Broken Politics, followed in 2018, and preceded a 30th anniversary expanded reissue of Raw Like Sushi. ~ Jason Ankeny & Andy Kellman, Rovi