Saturday, May 1, 2010

Erykah Badu: The Beat Goes On and On

Erykah Badu: New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) One thing is for sure, Erykah Badu feels the funk. From within her, from without, the music of the innovative woman not only flows, it grows. With 1997’s Baduism, Badu not only helped make neo-soul mainstream, she began a movement along with Maxwell and Jill Scott.

Songs like “On and On” and “Call Tyrone” made the turban-wearing Badu the queen of neo-soul. Although subsequent albums such as Mama’s Gun and Worldwide Underground had their moments, they left much to be desired. Now, with her LP, New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh,) Erykah Badu mixes her old flavor with the new.

The first striking thing about the disc: the album cover, designed by Badu, would take days to analyze, but the sleeve does fit the music: that of a woman bound by industrial conventions that has a whole new world inside her mind, perfectly. In these times of music, when everything is either auto-tuned, overproduced or calculated, this message cannot be more true.

“Window Seat,” the album’s first single, deals with a woman’s conflict with her fame and her need for privacy. Badu sings, “concentrating on my music, lover, and my babies, makes me wanna ask the lady for a ticket outta town” but later sings “but I need u to want me, need you to miss me, need your attention.” This concept doesn’t really fit the one of the accompanying controversial video, which features Badu undressing as she walks through Dallas. Regardless of concepts, the song touches on soul, jazz, hip-hop and r&b in all the right places, mirroring that of Badu’s earlier hits.

“Turn Me Away (Get MuNNY)," “Fall in Love (Your Funeral)” and “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long” groove to the honey-sweet funk beats. “Umm Hmm”is an 80’s-inspired r&b treat. And opener “20 Feet Tall” lies in a puddle of syrupy neo-soul, if sugarfree. The tracks may be heavy on the funk, but all three are a bit light on the lyrics, mostly focusing on simplistic patterns. That said, this album isn’t meant to be New Amerykah Part One (4th World War).

Badu saturates the record with beats instead of words, but even in doing that her music comes out as more real and organic than many albums out there today. Badu, at times, does tend to slide off course a bit in the LP. Sometimes directionless, songs like “Love” turn out to be the most hated, melody-less track of the bunch, and “Out of My Mind, Just in Time” starts off as a Billie Holiday-esque jazz number, but ends in a druggy mess that puts a bit of a damper on the record since it serves as the closer.

Lighting things up again, “Incense,” with the sound of harps tingling through, sets the mood for soulful bliss. A simple track, perhaps the most trivial in terms of lyrics, the smokey music lights up the spirit and puts it at ease.

In the end, the album may be like incense, at a preview, it can either turn you off or on, but when its beats are filling your room, there is no escaping it. Fans of old-school Badu’s classics such as “Other Side of the Game” and “Next Lifetime” won’t find many references to the past in New Amerykah Part Two, but Badu is just doing what she promotes in her music video for “Window Seat,” and that is: to evolve.

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