It is Erykah’s Amerykah

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Erykah Badu – New Amerykah, Pt. 1 (4th World War), 2008

I’ve had New Amerykah on blast all week. I’ll say this about Erykah: so damn consistent. I was thinking tonight as I drove home from happy hour with some co-workers, bumpin’ “Me,” a sign of Erykah’s consistency is that I cannot decide which of her albums I like best. Baduizm. Mama’s Gun. Worldwide Underground. New Amerykah, Pt. 1 (4th World War). All strong from front to back, that it’s tough to find anything that would separate one from the other. Baduizm has a soulful, fresh vibe to it. Mama’s Gun features an acoustic, jazz influence. Worldwide Underground has Erykah extending her boundaries a bit. And New Amerykah is an amalgam of them all.

Admittedly, with Erykah I always remind myself that some of her subtle themes may take a while to catch onto, e.g. “So I salute you Farrakhan, cause you are me/before I end this dream, before I take one for the team.” I don’t doubt this is the case with NA. But sonically, this album is incredible. Upon my first few listens, I thought it was extended interludes, punctuated with songs. But, Erykah and her musically-blessed production team are on some next $hit here. Several of the tracks feature more than one arrangement, with songs such as “Master Teacher” and “The Hump” switching up while in progress. I’ve always been a fan of that – it reminds me of a free associative jam session. And a quick note regarding the artists she had working on this: ingenious on her part. Madlib; Karriem Riggins, Roy Hargrove, Sa-Ra, Questlove; James Poyser; 9th Wonder; Roy Ayers; Georgia Anne Muldrow (or as I like to call, the female Madlib). As individuals, they obviously had the albums collective sound in mind. As many different arrangements flow in and out of the album, its sound is seamless.

“The Healer,” hip hop anthem of sorts, implicating the wide appeal that hip hop cradles within its hands; akin to the binding nature of religion, but Erykah recognizes that hip hop span across religions. Madlib. Check. Madlib also does up “My People” as Erykah hips up the now famous Eddie Kendricks chant. As previously noted, “Soldier” is one of my favorite tracks. That flute melody is hypnotic (and reminds me of the flute on Hi-Tek’s “Music for Life” from Hi-Teknology 2: The Chip). Conveys similar mood.

“Me” has been coming on strong over the past few days. This reminds me of something that would have been on Mama’s Gun. I love the clapping percussion; bassline is jazz, undeniably; and the horns. I’m a huge advocate of horns, and the way Hargrove dances them within the beat is great. Substance wise, “Me” may have garnered the most attention, due to Erykah’s open nod to Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, (whom has recently been rejected and denounced by Senator Obama) but as this article, from the Dallas Morning News suggests, she’s got “me” in mind for her dubious dinner guest. Politics aside, the music backing “Me” is quite a treat.

“Master Teacher” is one of the most interesting compositions on NA. Speculation was abound that Erykah and Georgia Anne Muldrow would be a dynamic duo (check “Fly Away” from Sa-Ra’s The Hollywood Recordings. And I think this Georgia produced track proves that. With the premise centered on the knowledge that nobody knows everything, Georgia’s convoluted melody and thumpin’ drums are ideal for both her and Erykah’s unique deliveries. About half way through the track, a soulful bassline takes over and Erykah gets contemplative, dreamily singing of sleeping babies, sunsets, and lovers.

The Questlove and James Poyser contribution, “The Hump” is Erykah’s vocal zenith of NA. Vocally, I think this is reminiscent of Baduizm‘s “Next Life Time,” or Mama’s Gun ‘s “Kiss Me on My Neck.” Initially, it sounds like an “I Want You” sequel, but turns out to be a commentary on the relationship between a user and her drugs. It’s almost arranged like “Green Eyes” (MG), broken into steps toward drug abuse recovery – she thinks about what’ll it be like if she can get off and how the drug rules her world; then spends a few bars rationalizing her use, “I never dun dope to cope/only smoke a joint or two…I know people do it day and night, night and day…”; finally, she throws up her hands, and wants to be done, “Lord knows I’m tired of this dope.” Classic Badu tale. “Telephone” continues the contemplative vibe, with Erykah singing a nod to those who’ve passed on. I’m not sure how accurate they are, but the internet is swarming with stories that this song is based on Dilla’s mom telling Erykah that during Dilla’s final days, he would be in a sort of hallucinogenic state, talking to ODB about giving him directions to heaven. I’ve read nothing to substantiate this, but it’s a cool concept nonetheless.

It’s been five long years between Erykah releases, but as usual, the wait is well worth it. And with her indicating that she has NA, Pt. 2 set for a release later this year, 2008 is looking bright for soul (don’t forget to check Coultrain). New Amerykah continues the consistency that we’ve come to expect from Badu. As I stated earlier, you can never discount her substance, e.g. “The Hump,” and Erykah’s dynamic interpretation of her world through her music. In my opinion, she remains one of the few artists who can pack so much depth into a commercially viable album. Musically, this album is on par with Mama’s Gun, which, in turn, I held in the same esteem as D’Angelo’s widely acclaimed Voodoo. Kyle, I think our soul music veggies have found their irrigation.

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2 Responses to “It is Erykah’s Amerykah”

  1. Busy-ness « Trading Tapes Says:

    […] I posted my big review of Erykah’s New Amerykah, I think I may have overestimated the commercial appeal. Perhaps […]

  2. The In Crowd « Trading Tapes Says:

    […] know where to start. I’ve spun through my ATCQ discography this week. I still maintain that Erykah’s New Amerykah is the hottest album of 2008. Max Kelleman of ESPNRadio (one of my other brief radio stops today) […]

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