Erykah Badu: New Amerykah Part Two (The Return of the Ankh)

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Posted September 13, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

Soul priestess returns to her soulful roots while promoting her newest campaign on good love and life

Concept albums in the R&B sector just doesn’t get the royal treatment that smutty sex albums get these days. After stirring up the neo-soul movement in the ‘90s with albums like Baduizm, Erykah Badu decided to open up her mental war chest and go for the Sly & the Family Stone militant overkill in 2008 on New Amerykah Part One (4th World War). The dense, tough rhetoric about commercialism, black-on-black crime, health care and governmental failures didn’t vibe well with those looking for her sweet, sexy poems towards ebony love and hip-hop. A tag-along bonus cut, “Honey,” was issued to R&B radio and helped disenfranchised listeners to get back on board Badu’s cruise ship of psychedelic wonder. Even with the rock world hailing the album as a milestone and R&B lovers feeling a bit left out, the album stands as a powerful masterpiece, even if it’ll probably take a decade or two for soul purists to actually call it that. The latest installment in her New Emerykah series, The Return of the Ankh, sort of heals the wounds of those whom took a beating from her last record. While she assembles her familiar entourage of musical talent to help piece together her latest set of images from her utopia, the album is more hopeful in its objectives and focuses on romance, mental liberation, the good life and other ethereal topics.

Just by looking at the cover art from EMEK, you can tell the album is poised to be a soothing adventure. The incorporation of the Egyptian ankh, a symbol meaning “eternal life,” is enough proof one needs to establish Badu’s aura of positive energy. And it is the ankh (with the reincarnation featuring a heart fixated on its top) that spiritually serves as a compass for Badu through her pilgrimage to a whole new enlightenment. With her fellow band mates from previous works on board, Badu doesn’t alienate from her roots but dishes out a warmer storyline trailing on the backs of neo-soul seductive vibes; easily providing an easy-listening journey into Badu’s psychedelia. “Window Seat” paces at a similar smooth soul tempo of “On and On” and ironically tells a story about longing for a love’s support, moral support and, in conclusion, isolation (I just wanna chance to fly/a chance to cry/and a long bye bye”).

The samples of late ‘70s and early 80s obscure, but righteously relevant grooves are even more obvious this time around. She does lean on the past a little more musically, but it gives the songs a posh, sweet coating. The Fender Rhodes patches of Paul McCartney/Wings’ “Arrow Through Me” can be heard in the background of “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long.” Traces from the chorus of Ndugu & the Chocolate Jam Co’s “Take Some Time,” with a little pitch bending, serenades the melody of “Umm Hmm.” Even the ever-funky beats on “Love,” with the help of the late J Dilla (she even gives him a shout-out in the beginning), gathers its inspiration from The Fabulous Souls (“Take Me”). With a sweet sample from one of Eddie Kendricks’ revered gems (“Intimate Friends”) in the sampling world, “Fall In Love (Your Funeral)” has a very strong sensibility to become a R&B hit. Its airy synths, playful lyrics and Badu’s vocal energy are enough ingredients needed to give Badu more radio power, that’s if radio still cared for cool soul music. Of all of the glories, her slice of funky soul is absolute genius on “Turn Me Away (Get Munny);” where she visits the Roy Ayers motherland to gather up the rich soil from Sylvia Striplin’s “You Can’t Turn Me Away.” She isn’t ashamed of her sampling habits here, especially since she boldly incorporates Notorious B.I.G’s “Get Money” (a popular hit that also sampled Striplin’s classic a decade ago) and the original chorus into her newly-revised collage. Here, Badu wittily bridges both chapters in music history as if they naturally belonged together.

When the album bows out with “Out My Mind, Just in Time,” Badu creates a 10-minute climax that runs through a maze of sequences: a jazzy, droopy Billie Holiday opener tapped with sweet strings, a spaced-out interval tucked in the middle and closing with a freedom song that explains her need to soar from life’s limitations (“Guess its time to grab a coat/evolution time to grow”). It’s the kind of finale’ that conjures up those Funkadelic/Parliament sociological tirades.

After panning the album, it is almost unsettling and discomforting to music scholars after recognizing “Window Seat” as probably the only freshest and un-sampled offering available. But rest assure, Return of the Ankh is a pleasurable, ambient trip into outer space and conjures up the peaceful sides of the unexplainable nature of love and life’s optimism. By far, her most accessible record to date. And even though Baduizm was rich in contemporary soul, Mama’s Gun represented a bolder, adventurous side in her music and 4th World War remains one of the most prolific protest records of modern music, The Return of the Ankh, in considerable time, will develop a respectful legend of its own.

J MATTHEW COBB

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HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: 30 Mar 2010
  • Label: Universal Motown
  • Producers: Erykan Badu, J Dilla, Mike Chavarria, Questlove, James Poyser, 9th Wonder, Sa-Ra, George Anne Muldrow, Karriem Riggins, Ta’Raach
  • Track Favs: Fall in Love (Your Funeral), Umm Hmm, Window Seat, Turn Me Away (Get Munny), Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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