Neneh Cherry has floated between underground acclaim and pop stardom. She has the life of a musical Zelig: raised by jazz great Don Cherry among cultural luminaries like Allen Ginsberg and Miles Davis, she left home early to join a first-generation punk band in London, the Slits. She made her mark in the funkier, multiracial postpunk scene. In 1988, her “Buffalo Stance” was the first pop song to incorporate rap, and scored her a huge hit worldwide.
Cherry went on to help shape trip-hop, the dance music popular in the UK. But she has not been quick to capitalize on success, and has gone more than a decade without making a record. “I’m not ambitious in the way where I’m driven by my career. I think a lot of people said, ‘She could have been really successful and sold a lot of records after “Buffalo Stance,”’ a lot of people were expecting that,” she tells Kurt Andersen. “But I couldn’t do it, I wasn’t able to go down that road.”
When Cherry does put out an album, it matters. Blank Project, released this month, seems to combine all the strands of her work into something wholly distinctive: minimalist club punk funk — a soul record that will rip your eardrums a new one.