Erykah Badu‘s rise to fame has always been intrinsically tied to her uncompromising nature and unique soul sound. Blending a dizzying mix of new age theory with Afrocentrism, boom bap hip hop and classic soul and R & B sounds, Badu has crafted creative artistry that intrigues the mind and opens the soul. With her mainstream career now in its 14th year, and at studio album number five, we see a soul songstress now at a transcendent level, someone who has reached a point as creator and auteur where they can be completely free and exploratory of new conceptualizations of a rapidly changing artistic vision.
The New Amerykah albums are a concept series that takes a look at the nature of the African-American social condition in the current era. New Amerykah Part One dealt mainly with socio-political concerns, but part two deals with the nature of emotions, with Badu using the palette of the Black family, relationships and love to provide the portrait. A jazzier feel is here as well, and between James Poyser’s amazing piano and beats by Madlib, 9th Wonder and the deceased J Dilla, you’re locked into a very soulful album with a backpacker mentality – in other words, a Badu special. And it succeeds. Badu‘s work on this album isn’t meant to be just about her lyrics or just about the production. It’s about their interplay and their offspring, the new emotional plane of understanding they allow the listener to reach.
Quite frankly, this album bangs. It bangs in a way a soul album isn’t supposed to. It goes hard, it hits you in the chest, and rattles in your soul. Whereas another R & B diva might use strings or lush instrumentation to get her point across, Badu is all about the kickdrum, Moog synths and bass guitar here. For a song with such a controversial video, “Window Seat” is a fantastic introspective soul number, as we’ve all wanted to “have a window seat, and have nobody next to me” when taking account of our lives. World’s most meta cover ever “Turn Me Away (Get Munny)” is an on point and ironic condemnation of golddiggers, taking the sample of Sylvia Stirpin’s “You Can’t Turn Me Away” and the chorus of Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s “Get Money” and effortlessly blending them into a funky and soulful stew. “Falling in Love (Your Funeral)” muses tough about guarded hearts falling into love, and features the first time that Notorious B.I.G.’s “Warning” has ever been used as an R & B hook, as “there’s gonna be some slow singin’, and flower bringin’,” gets added into the workout that samples Eddie Kendricks’ sultry “Intimate Friends” in a way possibly as great as Alcia Keys’ “Unbreakable,” or Sweet Sable’s 1995 one hit wonder “Old Times Sake.”
Even when the album gets more meandering, adventurous and ponderous it still scores huge, as in bringing in the underrated indie soul of Georgia Anne Muldrow on three part, ten minute album closer “Out My Mind, Just in Time,” and harpist Kirsten Agnesta on “Incense.” Badu not only nods her head toward the modern underground, but uses them in such a way as to accentuate and add greater depth and scope to the nature of her work in the New Amerykah series.
In final, if looking for just another soul album to add to your collection, do not make this a must buy. However, if willing to stop, reflect, open your mind, and fix your soul, this is a quality purchase. Badu has found a way to invoke only the most quality elements of soul on this release to make, from an artistic standpoint, one of the top albums of her career.