Part I. The review.
“Cover me, I ‘m goin in”
It’s hard to believe that its been 13 years, five “studio” albums and one “live” album since Ms. Erykah Abi Badu, walked into our lives trailed by wisps of incense smoke and adorned by a head wrap that we still aren’t sure what it was covering.
But here we are. Thirteen years later. Thirteen!?
In a period where artists debut and disappear in less time than a ringtone, Ms. Badu is an elder among the artists that remain on the slim (and getting slimmer) rosters of the few existing major labels. So she’s wise to the industry games and the fickleness of listeners, and the whispers of focus groups organized by the suits who run this whole sha-bang!
So before I even speak on the obvious outcry, buzz, and larger conversation, regarding Ms. Badu’s bunda and nakedness, I got a music review to share, so here we go.
I count “Worldwide Underground” as the starting point of Erykah really taking over the sonic reins of her albums, and since then, short album as it was, Erykah’s really been turning out the ear candy. You got your tuning forks, sirens, sped up overdubbed helium vocals, crackling popping vinyl sounds, hand cymbals…and great music.
New Amerykah Part 2: “Return of The Ankh”, is a leaner album than Part 1, though it has just as many tracks. Part 1. The 4th World War, was a disjointed mixtape, a Parliament –Funkadelic album cover collage of beats, in your face honesty, and an Afro-futurist call to arms .Every track could have very well been its own album, as Erykah channeled, Cleopatra Jones, J-Dilla, Diana (Ms. Ross, to you), some Chaka, Queen Afua, and a lil Betty Davis thrown in for good measure. But in a nutshell, 4th World War was Erykah’s coat of many colors, her, What’s Goin On, album. She was in love, and she was really feelin’ herself, and feelin’ grown, both musically, literally, and lyrically.
“Everything around you see
The Ankhs, the wraps,the plus degrees yes even the mysteries
Its all me-
-This year I turned 36
Damn it seems it came so quick
My ass and legs have gotten thick yeah
Its all me”
- “Me” Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part .1
And she’s still growing.
In the case of Return Of The Ankh, Badu turns the volume down somewhat and removes the multi-layers from her tracks, so you can really digest the lyrical and emotional content this go round.
In the opening track “20 Feet Tall” Erykah reprises her role(s) of confidant and confessor, as she sings about a love that’s gradually raised an emotional wall to keep her out.
The second track “Window Seat” (we’ll get on the video later) opens up with some very Questlove like snares, and the groove is immediate, a nice thick bass bump gives the track some definite head nod effect, and we’re off, as Erykah ‘s voice, still honeyed and smooth, croons on about getting away from it all via a plane, spaceship, ect.
The next track, “Agitation”, is a short and mostly instrumental track that kinda reminds me of Stevie Wonder’s “Contusion”. Its mostly an interlude into a funkier than a mosquito’s tweeter Baduized rendition of .“Sylvia Striplin’s “Can’t Turn Me Away”. If that doesn’t ring a bell, just know it’s the song sampled by Junior Mafia, for their 1995 club banger, “Get Money” featuring The Notorious B.I.G.
Entitled “Turn Me Away (Get Munny)”, Badu and the band get all up in the pocket, as they mix elements of Striplin and the late Frank White, for the desired effect, a nice two-step -at the cook-out- ala’ pimped out Cutlass Supreme ridin’ song. Badu freaks the lyrics a bit, and also has some hilarious ad-libs as the song sputters and hiccups to a close.
Other standouts like the dusted off sounding “Love” which uses an old J-Dilla beat and the equally funky “Fall In Love (Your Funeral)” ( I love how they rework that Eddie Kendricks sample, from “Intimate Friends”) and “Incense” are great as well, and really show the strength of Badu’s guiding hand as an executive producer for the most of the album.
But the crowning track of the entire album has to be “Out Of My Mind, Just In Time”. Clocked at ten minutes and twenty-two seconds, before I even heard the song, I had the familiar feeling that this one was going to be epic, so I dubbed it “Green Eyes II: Even Goddesses Get The Blues”.
The ol’ saying is true, some of the best art comes from pain and heartbreak, and somebody has broken Ms. Badu’s heart something serious. From the first strains of the lonely piano chord, you get a feeling this song is a swollen rain cloud getting ready to burst, and the first drops are some of the most heartfelt lyrics I’ve heard in a while.
“I’m a recovering, undercover-overlover…”
I imagine Badu leaning on a baby grand, illuminated by a muted spot light, a Billie Holiday Gardenia in her hair, moaning out this song. It’s a story we’ve all heard before; someone loves someone, they put their all into the relationship, the other leaves for another, and the one left goes crazy.
‘Cept it doesn’t end there, just as in Green Eyes, this is a song of movements, the beats change, Badu’s voice intensifies, and she serves us the must vulnerable part of herself; naked and unashamed to be falling apart.
Despite the uproar over her guerrilla filmed video for “Window Seat” ,eyes and ears should be focused intently on this album. Badu delivers a helluva second serving of her New Amerykah series. Savor it, and get ready for thirds.
Derrick Weston Brown
The Kid With The Broken Halo