On her third album Bitter, Meshell NdegeOcello narrowed her notorious thematic ambition to create a bleakly beautiful treatise on infidelity and trust. The result was her finest work, and one of 1999's best releases, but NdegeOcello has said it also alienated fans who regarded Bitter as excessively "white" in sound. Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape was apparently conceived (or at least executed) as a response to those charges, but the album's hyper-ambitious, uncompromising power demonstrates that NdegeOcello had far more in mind than addressing her critics. Exploring a messy sprawl of racial and sexual politics, and occasionally opening the floor to guest poets and speakers like Angela Davis and Gil Scott-Heron, Cookie is so frequently brilliant that its periodic missteps feel like integral parts of a grand design. After opening with the incendiary "Dead Nigga Blvd. (Pt. 1)," with its chorus of "No longer do I blame white folks for the way that we be / Niggas gotta redefine what it means to be free," the album follows NdegeOcello's narrative digressions into sex, love, world politics, death, race, religion, and rage. On "Jabril," her protagonist ruminates on her imminent death by gunshot, while the funky "Hot Night" examines NdegeOcello's role as a socialist and "revolutionary soul singer," but Cookie peaks when its political vision wears a human face. In the melancholy "Barry Farms," the album's best track, she laments the motives of a closeted lover‚ÄĒ"She couldn't love me without shame / She only wanted me for one thing / but you can teach your boy to do that"‚ÄĒproviding a sad and searing sequel to the irresistibly sticky come-ons in "Pocketbook." At 71 minutes, Cookie eschews the consistency of its near-perfect predecessor, but it's not necessary: NdegeOcello explores questions without answers here, and her complex journey is a glorious destination in and of itself.

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