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 prior to making a mainstream breakthrough as a solo artist with the global smash hit "Buffalo Stance," which sent her eclectic debut album, Raw Like Sushi (1989), to the Top Ten album charts in several countries. Rather than follow the standard path of a commercial artist, 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 Karlssson 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 dropped out of 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). When the band broke up, Cherry remained with one of the spin-off groups, Float Up CP, and led them through Kill Me in the Morning (1986). The band proved short-lived, and Cherry began rapping in a London club, where she earned the attention of a talent scout who signed her to a solo contract. Her first single, "Stop the War," railed against the invasion of the Falkland Islands.
After attracting some notice singing backup on The The's "Slow Train to Dawn" single, she became romantically and professionally involved with composer and musician Cameron McVey, who, under the alias Booga Bear, wrote much of the material that would comprise Cherry's 1989 debut LP, Raw Like Sushi. One song McVey did not write was "Buffalo Stance," the album's pre-release breakthrough single; originally tossed off as a B-side by McVey's mid-'80s pop group Morgan/McVey, Cherry's version was an international smash -- Top Ten in the U.K. and Sweden, among other territories -- that neatly summarized the album's eclectic fusion of pop smarts and hip-hop energy. A pair of hits -- the eerie "Manchild" and "Kisses on the Wind" -- followed, as did a nomination for a Grammy in the category of Best New Artist (won by Milli Vanilli). Apart from a cover of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" for the 1990 Red Hot + Blue benefit album, she remained silent until 1992's Homebrew. A more subdued collection than Raw Like Sushi, it featured cameos from Gang Starr and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, and writing and production assistance from Geoff Barrow prior to his emergence with Portishead.
Between albums, Cherry returned to the charts in 1994 as Youssou N'Dour's duet partner on "7 Seconds," another global hit. After another hiatus spent raising her children, she resurfaced in 1996 with Man, which featured "7 Seconds," an update of Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man," and an appearance from Tricky. A remix version of the album, simply titled Remixes, followed in 1998. Family life became a priority once again with some 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, which carried her well into the new millennium.
Cherry returned in 2012 with The Cherry Thing, for which 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 originally recorded by the likes of Ornette Coleman, the Stooges, Suicide, and indeed, Don Cherry. In 2013, Neneh Cherry collaborated with London duo RocketNumberNine on their album MeYouWeYou, and worked with them on her 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, Broken Politics, followed in 2018. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi