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Music Review: Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Pt. One: 4th World War

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‘Soul Stomping’

If it seems that every review dealing with black female soul/hip-hop artists must find root in the previous decade then allow me to get right to that point. Like most critics, I’ll eschew R&B for now, because no matter how many mediocre albums Alicia and Mary J. make, neither has made a One In A Million this decade and probably never will. Put an asterisk beside Lauryn Hill, and that leaves us with the precocious but missing in action Rah Digga and Joi (so lauded that record labels are baffled what to do with her).

1997, however, ushered in two artists that have come to define black music. Missy Elliott may be re-treading into boredom now, but up until recently she was the most vital thing in hip/hop. Now she does songs like "Ching –a-Ling" and gets laughed at. One writes her off at their own peril though, because who else can deliver freaky brilliance like "Work It" and "Pass That Dutch"? Missy cannot claim however an entire album of consistent greatness other than her debut, Supa Dupa Fly. That’s why Erykah Badu's Baduizm remains — along with One in a Million — the defining album of a ‘sister’ in that decade.

Baduizm was supposed to have ushered in a new wave of neo-soul awareness. But its magnitude was such that not even Badu herself could match it with subsequent albums. While others have wisely not tried to scale its heights either, they have elevated their game since then. In the process Badu has padded two very good albums with a wavering conscience and gotten by with her critics darling tag intact.

Now, at 37 with so much behind her, Badu has come full circle with New Amerykah, an opus that gleefully erases the frustration one feels when hearing inferior artists aping her vibe while missing her essence totally. It is brilliant and witty in a way her peers just can’t seem to indoctrinate into their DNA. It’s a mere 10 songs plus the bonus track "Honey," but less is more here as Badu restricts pandering to anything other than her current state of reflection.

This is no retread though or last stab at what established her initially. While some still pine for her head-wraps and ankhs, it’s clear she has moved on to a path that can no longer be subverted. The greatness isn’t in spurts either: from the retro intro "Amerykahn Promise" to the sugary "Honey" that closes it, the album is robust.

That is what separates her from her peers too — the ability to achieve continuity amid taking stock and chances. Mary J. Blige seems perennially at a heart-mending stage, but it was apropos back then in ’94 when she had the pulse of the streets. Lauryn Hill’s bitterness towards so much threatens to curtail her brilliant career, and Alicia Keys keeps on hiding her true self both on and off record. Even bad acts like Mariah Carey on her manipulative new song, "Touch My Body," seems etched in the same feral intent and tight dresses that now just reek of desperation.

Badu wraps her soul around brilliant funk jams like "The Healer" and "Twinkle," and the effect is devastatingly spare yet filling in a way Jill Scott hasn’t mastered since "A Long Walk." What Badu does is even more remarkable when one considers that the only politics being discussed on New Amerykah are those of her womanhood and relationships.

"Fly free baby fine with me/ I’m in love with a bumble bee," she croons on the breezy "Honey" in obvious reference to Dre (from Outkast). Her delivery can spin wry lyrics too: "Mama coughed up on cocaine/ daddy on spaceships with no brain," she yelps on "The Cell" which works wondrously as an expose on the drug addiction that faces so many in her land.

Her focus on "The Healer" encompasses more than just her art-form, going further to express how misguided it has become in its quest to dominate music. "We’ve been programmed/wake up/we miss you," she loving reminds while dumping down herself musically to scale larger on lyrics. "The Healer" reaches within itself to constantly mourn the late J Dilla as well as the sad state of music. Badu’s production is aided sublimely by Dilla’s efforts as well as 9th Wonder, Madlib and Mike ‘Chav’ Chavarria.

No matter the scenario though, Badu has finally flittered around to giving us the soulful masterpiece we’ve been harping for and she’s accomplished it on her own post neo-soul terms. Here’s the follow-up that rivals Baduizm as the defining artistic venture in her remarkable life.

Many artists only get one brilliant flash but Badu now has two. The only difference this time around, is that her influence will be even quicker, more immediate than the first time as even her peers are recognizing her efforts. The upcoming brilliant album by New York rapper Jean Grae (look out for my review when it drops) features a shout out to Badu on the first track. Grae is without doubt the finest female rapper out there now, and if she can hail the woman who helped make her venture worthwhile then that’s the props I’m keeping in tune with.

RATING: 9/10

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About immortalcritic

  • Benny

    Mariah Carey = Bad act?
    Hey! Maybe for you. Each has its own.
    I love her and it pains me to see “snobby” reviewers like you who intellectualize everything and say she’s bad at what she does. Don’t you think you should reconsider your conclusions when you see her sales figures? How come many people buy her music when its bad? You mean, common people who buy her music can’t appeciate good music? That’s an elitist point of view. Very “racist” I’d say, for lack of word to describe what you are.

  • Amac

    Mr. immortalcritic .. You are the absolutely the worst critic ever .. Your point of view of comparing Erykah to Alicia to Mary to Mariah shows that you don’t appreciate how DIFFERENT these women are .. or celebrate their individuality .. I heard a racist say all black people look alike .. And that is what this review sounds like .. Full of HATE .. JEALOUSY .. and BITTER UGLINESS.. God help you !!!

  • http://bens-journal.blogspot.com/ dottieye

    I like how you’ve looked at it from a Hip-Hop point of view. For that reason, and to those comments above, does not favour Alicia Keys or Mary-J-Blige. Aaliyah’s One In A Million was a milestone in Hip-Hop in it’s production (Timbaland) and blend with soul music. Baduizm was a soul album released by a rap artist(her first demo tape). Erykah Badu has really peeled the onion. I dont think she’s changing, I think she’s discovering, and expressing at the same time.

    On the other hand, I think her album was very political. It was reminiscent of the Nation Of Islam, Farrakhan & Malcom X. “My People” is a love song to me, even though I am from Africa, where people are living in poverty. In each song, there are phrases that are political, beside ‘Honey’. Dare she say “Hip Hop is bigger than religion” reminding of the Beatles & John Lennon’s controversial writing.

  • Lisa

    “Alicia Keys keeps on hiding her true self both on and off record.”

    Thanks for telling the truth. This woman is talented but soooooo overrated that it’s ridiculous. I wish that she had the guts to really speak her mind like Erykah.

  • Sara_H

    I would take Mary and Alicia’s recent album over Erykah’s any day….Erykah’s great I was’nt feeling the album too much

    Alicia is nowhere near overrated and I thinks it’s unfair to say she isn’t true when you knoe the least about her

  • Lisa

    I don’t have to know her to say that she’s overrated. She is. I just don’t see the “greatness” that everyone talks about. She’s average. And she’s FORCE-FED to the public.

  • ibn khaldun

    this is an excellent article.

    thank you for finally saying what is so true – R&B has been hanging by a thread.

    really solid writing.

  • olugabala

    “she croons on the breezy “Honey” in obvious reference to Dre (from Outkast)”

    Erykah and dre ended a long time ago. she has since been handful of hip hops most conscience men. even having a baby with D.O.C., a very musical relationship with common, and a very private relationship with her new man, the brilliant underground internet rap star Jay Electronica.

    This article shocked me at some points. you mentioned so many other artists, with out even mentioning her Mamas gun, or her EP Worldwide Underground, Which were both brilliant.

    I do Agree with you on your thoughts on mary, alicia, and lauryn. it’s really a shame whats going on with lauryn. Erykah badu is in a completely different league from alicia and mary, i really hope lauryn gets it together and stops screaming.

    New Amerykah plays like a brilliant hip hop mix tape of hip hops most brilliant underground producers. She dims down the singing, but the messages she bringing this time around is exactly what hip hop needs. i cant wait for part two. apparently theres a live album coming out too, which im most excitted for.

  • joni

    for everyone who doesnt understand erykah badus greatness, has not taken a moment to see what she’s doing live these days on youtube. check out what shes done in dc, north sea jazz festival, and with stones throw.

    mind blowing. shes definately “the healer” hip hop AND r&b needs. Shes one of the most under-rated artists who has to say some thing real and making lovely real music.

    so much love for erykah

    NEW AMERYKAH PART ONE IS OFF THE HOOK!!!

  • anonfan

    Yeah, I agree that Alicia Keys is overrated. Her singing and songwriting seem to get worse and worse with each cd release. Loved “Falling” on the first album, and “If I ain’t got you” on the second album, but hard to find anything else really lovable that she’s put out…

  • Onas

    Definitely not feeling this album.

  • magawisca

    Anyone who fails to take note of Mama’s Gun or the song “I Want You” from Worldwide Underground should not discuss Badu. Shut Up! You are obvuiously not a black woman.

  • http:immortalcritic.blogspot.com Neil Morgan

    Thanks for the feedback guys, it really is an exceptional album by Badu and it is an album of the year contender and I’ve been gettin a lot of flak since my Mariah Carey review and it always puzzles me how her fans feel she is above criticism yet, trust me, when critics do their year end polls of the best albums of the year, this work–not Mariah’s–will be close in thought.

  • http://canadiancinephile.com/ Jordan Richardson

    I don’t think most fans care about year end polls from critics, actually.

  • Jasmine

    To Neil Morgan:

    Mariah does what she needs to do to stay relevant so she serves up dishes of bubblegummy pop tarts that oftentimes, leave me sour (and this is coming from an Emancipation of Mimi fan!) I haven’t heard the new record, but her stans, i mean fans, need to be spoonfed, like the general population. They won’t necessarily get the beauty of an album like “New Amerykah.” So sad but true.

  • http://canadiancinephile.com/ Jordan Richardson

    Jasmine, I think there’s room in this world (and in my CD collection) for a bit of everything. That doesn’t mean I’m “spoonfed” or that the general population is. This elitism is just downright annoying.

  • Jasmine

    Jordan, are you serious?? Elitism?? Just because the critic didn’t like he cd, he’s an elitist because of his view? FOH! He’s a critic and so am I because I’m a consumer. But he CRITIQUES albums for a living. You guys put Mariah on a pedestal and think that everything she puts out is perfect. Be real. Not everyone’s going to like what she puts out and you shouldn’t get mad at them. Please respect their opinion. Btw, I love Mariah but not this one. She’s stooping very low to sell records. There, I said it! Now what??

  • http://canadiancinephile.com/ Jordan Richardson

    First of all, settle down.

    Second, the comment about elitism was directed at you, not the author of this piece.

    Third, you claimed that her “stans” or “fans” need to be “spoonfed.” I’m not sure what the inference is supposed to be here entirely, but it does smack of elitism when you suggest that some people who enjoy certain types or styles or artists or whatever are “spoonfed” because they “need to be.” This suggests that the “rest of us,” for instance those of us who enjoy Erykah Badu, are decidedly “not being spoonfed” and are thus making our own music choices.

    Fourth, I don’t know if you’ve looked around the site, but I’m also a critic. Got quite a few music reviews up so far, actually. I would never suggest that a critic, by his or her very nature of being a critic, was being elitist at all.

    Fifth, who is “you guys?” I’m not particularly a Mariah fan, although I will be reviewing a copy when the album arrives here from her label (there were no advances and I refused to listen to the leak). I’m not mad at anyone for not liking any particular piece of music. I do take issue with the notion that people that do enjoy something are being “spoonfed.” The notion that I don’t respect the opinion of the author of the post is laughable considering your “spoonfed” comments.

    Sixth (and final point, I promise), I haven’t heard the new Mariah as mentioned. I will be reviewing it for this site and I may, in fact, not like it very much. I’m not sure, I’m not a fan. But what I will not do is echo your sentiments and suggest that people that do will swallow anything.

  • Jasmine

    So I’m an elitist because I said Mariah and her music spoonfeeds? I meant that there’s nothing about Mariah’s music that challenges, or provokes thought. She follows a formula, and it works for her. Her album’s easy to get into, not far-left like Erykah’s latest. Mariah’s straight up bubble gummy TRL pop, and that’s OK, if you like Mariah. You can’t even compare her to Erykah, that wouldn’t be a fair assessment. And as a music critic, you should know that. Calm down Jordan. It’s really not that serious. I’m not hating on Mariah, I’m just calling it the way I see it. I, like everyoneelse, am allowed to have my opinion. Not everyone’s going to run around waving a Mariah banner. I respect yours and I hope you respect mine. That’s all I’m asking for. Let’s agree to disagree for right now.

  • http://canadiancinephile.com/ Jordan Richardson

    “I meant that there’s nothing about Mariah’s music that challenges, or provokes thought.”

    Correction: there’s nothing about her music that challenges you or provokes thought with you. For many, her songs are relatable and engaging. See, this is the elitism I’m referring to. Your attitude is akin to “oh, well this musician is thought-provoking but this other musician here isn’t and is simply spoonfeeding her fans.” Surely you see how presumptuous that is.

    “You can’t even compare her to Erykah, that wouldn’t be a fair assessment. And as a music critic, you should know that.”

    Comparisons are always dangerous, that’s why I rarely make them. For the record, I didn’t compare Mariah Carey to Erykah Badu, so I’m not quite sure what your point is.

    “I’m not hating on Mariah, I’m just calling it the way I see it. I, like everyoneelse, am allowed to have my opinion. Not everyone’s going to run around waving a Mariah banner. I respect yours and I hope you respect mine.”

    Had you read the entirety of my response to you in the first place, you would have realized that this isn’t really about Mariah and liking her or not liking her (as I said before, I’m pretty indifferent to her).

    “I respect yours and I hope you respect mine. That’s all I’m asking for. Let’s agree to disagree for right now.”

    Ah ha, but that’s just it. You don’t respect my musical opinion if you claim that I’m being “spoonfed” my music by the mindless Mariah and her formulaic drivel. To me that claims an assumption about how I enjoy my music, about what I look for in my music, and about what I get out of my music. No art, no matter how bland and formulaic it may look on the surface, follows such rules. It is different with each person who experiences it and it is presumptuous to suggest otherwise.

  • Jasmine

    “oh, well this musician is thought-provoking but this other musician here isn’t and is simply spoonfeeding her fans.”

    I never said this so please don’t put words in my mouth. I said in my previous response that I respected your opinion. You clearly don’t respect mine, that’s why I agreed to disagree, especially since music is subjective. Enjoy your new Mariah CD sweetheart:) Toodles!

    I hope you enjoy Mariah’s new cd Jordan:)

  • Benny

    Hey! I am enjoying Mariah’s new CD and I have a feeling that I will be in a very long time. It’s great. It’s not “thought-provoking” but it is what it is . . . enjoyable music. That’s all that matters. Lighten up people!

  • Roger

    I love Mariah’s voice and I’m a huge fan of Emancipation. It was a well-produced, beautifully sung album. But seriously, her subject matter is extremely limited, hasn’t progressed since Vision Of Love – it is NOT challenging.

    Erykah may not sell as many records – she doesn’t feel the need to dress up in a postage stamp mini skirt and writhe on a bed in a video – and her music is always a reflection on what is happening in her interior and exterior world, whether love, politics, religion. She is a lyrically and vocally gifted artist, always looking to expand boundaries of sound and thought.

  • Tell te Truth

    This woman Erykak Badu this so called Goddess as she wants to be called by the Hip Hop World is into Astral Projection or Soul Traveling, it is an old Occult practice where you meditate (yoga, new age movement) and after a few miniutes the body and the spirit seperate. The spirit if free to travel, as the physical body stays in like a trance, sleeping format and do whatever it wants in the astral plane (people of God call it the spiritual realm) This is still being practiced by Witches, Warlocks, Satanist and even teenagers today in our Western World. Sound scary, keep on reading baby!!!!

    This is a forbidden practice by God, God warns us to stay away from these practices because Satan could take advantage and it may cause mental and emotional problems in individuals that practice it. It also opens them up to strong demonic power, depending on what door was opened depends on how often the practitioner (Erykah Badu) does it. It’s like a bad LSD trip that won’t stop, it goes on and on. Considering that she does channeling which any FOOL can hear through her music, black magic and chantings which begans to release DEMONIC POWER TO ALL LISTENERS and this is called Seducing Spirits.

    Ever listen to a Erykah Badu record CD and you have no freaking idea what she is saying or talking about but something tells you to KEEP lsitening to it, then after a while the very song you hated, all of a sudden you LOVE it??? Those are subliminal messages and they are bound through demonic forces/power. In exchanged Erykah gets reconition and fame and her career gets advanced.

    Once in the astral realm (you can manipulate, people throughs dreams, thoughts, wills and motives.)

    This sounds exciting does it not? But believe you me there is a price to pay. The person(Erykah Badu) that does this if they want to stop, this demonic force that they allowed in through meditation becomes a slave master like a puppet on a string. Some people commit suicide, some hear voices or they even see manifestation in their waking life.

    Witchcraft is REAL, I am not here to promote it but to expose it. They are teaching little kids how to do this as young as 5 and six. You can not dabble in the occult and expect not to suffer because of it. If you are mad I wrote this get a little bit more mad, guess where are of this is coming from???

    YOGA YOGA YOGA YOGA YOGA YOGA YOGA YOGA YOGA YOGA

    Yes, it is just not breathing techniques or exercise ask Erykah Badu that. Each breathing exercise is summoning a demon(real demons)People before you do something you need to check out WHERE it came from, who is speaking into YOUR life, words have powers yes they do. If there is something on a CD and you do not know the meaning then you need to FIND out what it means. If you are a praticing YOGA then I advise you to stop

  • Phil

    I totally agree w #4 writer Lisa: Alicia Keys is so overrated its ridiculous. People keep saying she’z so talented (which is true) but they accredit her for way too fuckin much. Maybe its cauz she play the piano, writes songz, is attractive and is a humanitarian.. Therz some songz I really lyk and others that I have to listen to frequently in order to like. And I also agree w writer #9 Joni: Erykah Badu is truly underrated, I gues cauz she doesnt follow what society brings forth for us to conform, as an artist and overall individual. Hope she actually does release Part 2 of New Amerykah.

  • Phil

    …And becauz Eryakh holds her tongue back for NO ONE. Last, I really dont understand why the how the hell Missy, Alicia Keys, Erykah Badu, AALIYAH, Mariah Carey, MJB and LAURYN HILL ever go in the same category… Every single one of these Afro-American women sing differently and have their OWN style so how did they end up on the same plate, nonetheless COMPARED???

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