Badu is back and still balancing the retro/progressive contradiction better than anyone.
Greg Boraman 2008
Much musical water has flowed under the bridge since Erykah Badu first broke internationally back in the mid 1990's. Back then it would have seemed highly unlikely that over a decade later worldwide record charts would be under a sustained attack from the retro pop-soul styling of Amy Winehouse, Corinne Bailey Rae, Duffy et al - who all owe a debt to Badu's trailblazing blend of vintage soul, jazz soundscapes, conscious hip hop beats and mildly blunted attitude.
Her music though populated with many a sampled homage to her old school funk and reggae influences is within its execution, fiercely individual, contemporary and personalised - there is never a chance of mistaking Badu's music for anyone else’s, and with New Amerykah Part One Erykah experiments with pushing the boundaries further without relinquishing her trademark approach. Kicking off with the P-Funk styled Amerykahn Promise Badu makes it very clear that her message and music are both increasingly uncompromising. This is Badu in an even more radical and philosophical mode - the lyrics and music both have a harder bite - in many cases exhibiting an other worldly and stripped back quality that challenges all the cliché’s of the banal and musically un-challenging contemporary R&B and rap so prevalent on most music video channels.
Badu's quirky self referencing humour is still present - never more so than within the track Me, contrasting nicely against its follow up My People where digital bleeps sit alongside some heavily afro-centric vocalising in an almost formless musical chant. It would be wrong to apply the phrase 'conceptual' to this album - but there somehow is a slightly apocalyptic theme bubbling away that is very reminiscent of Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On? and Sly & The Family Stone's There's A Riot Going On throughout but especially contained within the spoken outro of the track Twinkle that is almost the work of controversial dead stand up Bill Hicks in its dark, fearful message; bump 'n' grind soul this is not….thankfully.
Badu has pulled off the rare trick of expanding and reworking her musical horizons but without really leaving her own comfort zone - this is a mature Erykah reclaiming her own territory from the myriad talents she originally inspired - and all that achieved without a 'rehab shock' tabloid headline in sight. Badu is back and still balancing the retro/progressive contradiction better than anyone.