New album "Pink Elephant" describes the hurt of infidelity to the letter(man).
If news of the whole Letterman scandal hasn’t taken control of your brain already, there’s a chance it may spring up in your mind while listening to Pink Elephant , N’dambi’s third U.S. release.
How so, you ask? Well, let us look at the album’s first track, “L.I.E.” (which stands for Long Island Expressway, of course). The song tells of a family man who puts the kids to bed every night right before making love to his wife. But once he crosses that expressway, he’s living, in N’dambi’s contralto words, “with Peter Pan.” He’s got secret money and a chick on the side. It’s not long before “the note he found on the front lawn tells him his secret is out.”
“L.I.E.” sounds like a dead-on yet veiled view of what’s going on with our favorite nocturnal gabber, but there are other tracks that sound oh-so-relevant. “Daisy Chain” tells of love gone wrong. (Dave and his assistant thought they could keep it a secret, but ... ) “Can’t Hardly Wait” and “Imitator” are tunes that have N’dambi going off on a trifling lover. (Seriously, that assistant’s blackmailing boyfriend ain’t shit!) And “Ooo Baby” has N’dambi cooing about reconnecting with a former love. (This just in: Dave and his assistant were creeping around last year!)
So, Miss N’dambi, do you mind that your new album may stir up thoughts of a gap-toothed broadcaster getting it on with one of his employees? “Actually, I wouldn’t,” says N’dambi, on the phone from Los Angeles. “I wouldn’t mind because I actually wrote the album for people to interpret how they feel, you know. It’s like you give your own perspective and meaning to the lyrics. And that was the goal of the album: To give you the story and you outfit it with whatever situation you relate to. And it makes the meaning happen for you. That’s what I meant it to do.”
It appears N’dambi (who doesn’t give out her full name and age because “that’s not what this is about”) is just content having people hear her music, whether you’re thinking about her or yourself or David Letterman or that naked guy in the wheelchair outside that drugstore that one time. Recently released on Stax, Elephant —named because the album explores the art of revelation in a positive light: “Pink is a good color for strength and hope, you know. And you need those things to help you overturn obstacles and realize dreams.”—had N’dambi hooking up with producer Leon Sylvers III (of the R&B/disco Sylvers dynasty) and coming up with mid-tempo soul songs spiked with different R&B influences.
“I spent a lot of time listening to just whatever it is that I liked,” she says. N’dambi eventually cribbed from music by such greats as Isaac Hayes, Betty Davis, the Jackson Five. With the track “Nobody Jones,” she was influenced by the work of Michael Jackson songwriter Rod Temperton. She even looked to the Truck Turner soundtrack for inspiration on “Wait.”
Elephant certainly brings to mind those good ol’ days of the adult contemporary soul of the early-to-mid ‘80s, back when R&B was performed by gotdamned adults, who sang about adult shit. But N’dambi says she was actually going for music that stood the test of time.
“I really just thought about trying to make music that didn’t have time on it. And if that means it’s grown-folks, then OK. And I realized if you sing ‘Birthday Sex’ today, you might not be singing that song, like, you know, ten years from now,” she says, bagging on the less-than-mature Jeremih tune that’s currently holding radiowaves hostage.
Elephant definitely sees N’dambi singing like she’s grown. On “Wait,” she constantly riffs on why she keeps “fuckin’ wit’” a shiftless man. As the daughter of Baptist preachers (her father passed away in 1998), who told N’dambi and the rest of her siblings they could only listen to country and gospel while growing up, how does her mother feel about her salty singing? “Well, my mom, she has her strong beliefs,” she replies. “But she knows that we have our own lives, and we have to live them for ourselves.”
She appears to be living just fine as a member of the contemporary Stax family. A signed artist since 2006, the indie-R&B gypsy sounds glad she’s found a home, especially at a down-home label. “I felt like Stax represented something that I wanted to be a part of, which was a legacy of great music,” she says. “And I wanted to create music there. And I felt that was a good home. Plus, it’s a Southern label. I’m from the South, so there’s all kinds of kinship I feel.”
So, it looks like N’dambi is feeling all kinds of good things now that she has let Elephant loose. It wouldn’t be surprising if she ended up doing a performance on Letterman one night. But she shouldn’t sing “L.I.E.”—that could cut too close to the bone. ■
Thurs., Oct. 15, 9pm. $6. With Lakisha English. Hard Rock Cafe, 1113-31 Market St. 215.238.1000. hardrock.com/philadelphia