The stepdaughter of jazz trailblazer Don Cherry, vocalist Neneh Cherry forged her own groundbreaking blend of pop, dance, hip-hop, and R&B, presaging the emergence of both alternative rap and trip-hop. She was born Neneh Mariann Karlssson on March 10, 1964, in Stockholm, Sweden, the daughter of West African percussionist Ahmadu Jah and artist Moki Cherry. Raised by her mother and her trumpeter stepfather in both Stockholm and New York City, Cherry dropped out of school at age 14, and in 1980 she relocated to London to sing with the punk group the Cherries.
Following brief 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 spinoff groups, Float Up CP, and led them through one album, 1986's Kill Me in the Morning. The band proved short-lived, however, 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 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 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, but shortly after the record's release Cherry was sidelined with Lyme disease. 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, as well as R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe. Some writing and production assistance came from Geoff Barrow, who layered the track "Somedays" with the same distinct trip-hop glaze he later perfected with Portishead. While the album was not as commercially successful as its predecessor, Cherry returned to the charts in 1994 duetting with Youssou N'Dour on the global hit "Seven Seconds."
After another layoff spent raising her children, she resurfaced with the atmospheric Man in 1996. A remix version of the album, simply titled Remixes, followed in 1998. Family life became a priority once again, with some guest appearances -- including the 1998 single "Walk Into this Room" with Live's Edward Kowalczyk, and a guest spot on Peter Gabriel's 2000 album OVO -- and work with her husband Burt Ford's band cirKus, carrying her into the new millennium. She returned in 2012 with The Cherry Thing, an album in which she fronted the Thing, the experimental Scandinavian jazz trio whose founding mission was to play her stepfather's music.
In 2013, Cherry collaborated with London duo RocketNumberNine on their album MeYouWeYou. She also joined them to perform the entire album at the Manchester International Festival in July 2013. The following year, she released her long-awaited fourth proper studio album, Blank Project. Produced by Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet) and recorded with RocketNumberNine and executive producer Booga Bear, it also featured an appearance from Swedish artist Robyn. ~ Jason Ankeny