Album Review: Erykah Badu – Nu Amerykah Pt. 2: Return Of The Ankh

There are just certain artists that evoke a special feeling from fans and fellow musicians alike.  An artist that, no matter the battle plan, you’d still opt to musically walk into war with them blindfolded.  It’s a trust that very few artists are able to get from their fanbase – but somehow Erykah Badu has been able to hypnotize me (and a gang of others) into being willing to do this since she stepped on the scene in 1997.

The evolution of Erykah is a type of transformation that’s rarely seen, at least in this modern generation.  She has the ability to adjust and shed certain skins similar to jazz artists of yesteryear and has a way of convincing her audience that they need to change with her too.

There’s no way to box her in.  When her debut Baduism stormed the scene in 1997, the head-wrapped songstress had a sound and image that combined the foundation of boom-bap Hip Hop with the soul of a Donny Hathaway record.  Dubbed as ‘the queen of Neo-Soul’, Badu herself never cared for the title; stating in a 2008 interview, “Neo-soul is dead. I never knew what that was anyway.”

When Mama’s Gun came out, I was floored.  The sassiness and swagger that we were only used to hearing from her male counterparts, she gave  a confidence and an unfuckwitable attitude that couldn’t be denied.  From Dilla-produced tunes with heavy baselines and intricate drum pattering to acoustic lullabies with Stephen Marley, the album was the quintessential soul album of the new millineum (that and probably Voodoo).

Worldwide Overground, released months after her Frustrated Artists Tour (2003), spawned three singles (including “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop)”) and debuted at #3 in the charts.  This was followed by five grueling years for a fanbase awaiting her return.  Finally in 2008, her first installment of New Amerykah” arrived and it showed a new Badu.  Opting to have a more Hip Hop influenced throughout the album, 9th Wonder‘s “Honey” and Madlib‘s “The Healer” showed Erykah in a new direction.  The response was mixed as some people were expecting more of a Mama’s Gun Erykah but, arguably, that album was so perfect there’s no need to do it over.

2010 brings us the sequel: New Amerykah Part 2: Return of the Ankh. Recruiting much the same production team as part one, the album kicks off with the 9th Wonder produced “20 Feet Tall.”  Erykah goes in: My love what did I do? To make you fall / fall so far from me? / Now I can’t recall / ’cause of the call / Selective memory.

“Window Seat” is vintage Erykah. A groove and lyrics that inspires us to get away.  A sentiment that seems pretty damn appropriate in these days and times.  Not to mention a controversial video that will sure enough get more attention than the album, displaying an eventual nude Badu walking through the streets guerrilla style (and displaying a fatty the world wasn’t ready for).

She channels the spirit of Junior M.A.F.I.A on “Turn Me Away (Get MuNNY)”, which seems more suited for an interlude at a concert rather than occupying the 11 song opus (maybe that’s because, quiet as it’s kept, I really wasn’t a fan of the original Junior M.A.F.I.A. single).  Paying homage to J Dilla on “Love”, it’s always good to have the type of support that mirrors a Busta Rhymes – who seems to have something on every album either dedicated to the fallen producer or produced by him.

Listening to this project and looking back at her discography, Badu proves her loyalty by working with almost the same cast of members ever since her debut.  This suggests something very important in understanding Erykah;  she didn’t put out an album in that eight year span because she didn’t want to.

Moments of her album aren’t studio recordings, but an eavesdrop on the life that is Erykah Badu – and she sounds like she’s having a ball with it.  Of course there are some moments on the project that at times feel underwhelming; songs like “Incense” have the potential to be so much greater but instead seem to be just an extended interlude – yet it opens the door to “what-could-be”; wondering what would happen if Erykah had a Madlib collaborative effort such as Madvillain (MF Doom and Madlib).

Is this new installment her best offering?  No.  But it’s another great offering in one of this generation’s pride of black music.  In a day in time where we feel that original soul music is dying, it’s alive and well with Erykah – and for that we will always have an ear ready to listen.

–Preach Jacobs

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