Way waaay back in the good old days of 2008 (when the world was still blissfully ignorant of the evil forces of Glee and Justin Bieber) a friend of mine referred to Erykah Badu’s recently-released, New Amerykah Part One (Fourth World War), as being (and this is a direct quote) “on some ‘ol next shit.” As a white person, I had little idea what this meant, but interpreted it to mean “progressive but weird as fuck.” After purchasing the album myself, I concluded that to be a fairly accurate assessment.
Featuring a four minute ’70’s exploitation film-style intro, New Amerykah Pt. One was a bit out there, even by Badu’s standards (“My People,” for instance, features the lyrics “Hold on, my people” on a loop for three and a half minutes), featuring sparse, hip-hop infused beats and politically-charged lyrics, the album strayed farther from the more traditional neo-soul and R&B of Baduism and Mama’s Gun.
Badu’s latest release, New Amerykah Part 2 (Return of the Ankh), eschews the ‘next shit’ feel and features a much more retro, old-school Erykah Badu vibe. The album opens on a much more subdued note than it’s predecessor, with the quiet keyboard arrangement, slow pace, and mild heartbreak that comprise “20 Feet Tall.” The first lyrics of the song, “my love,” hint at the thematic change of direction that Badu is taking from Part 1.
This is an R&B album, pure and simple, and as such the primary focus is on love– whether it be absence from the one we love (“20 Feet Tall, “Window Seat,” “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long), unrequited love (“You Loving Me (Session)”), or a reverie on love and the way it affects us (“Umm Hmm,” “Love”).
There’s a flow here, an almost effortless quality– a feeling that was largely absent from Part 1 (with the exception of album standout “Honey“), an album that was, while forward-thinking and often brilliant, often too capricious and eclectic for its own good. And, to a certain extent, it feels like Badu is having more fun this time around: there’s the catchy and humorous interludes “Agitation” and “You Loving Me (Session),” and album standout “Turn Me Away (Get Munny),” a funky gold-digger-love song complete with sweet-voiced hoochie girl croon and lyrics like “Tickle tickle before stroke, I love your solid golds” and “I’ll be your robot girl, Come into me my world.”
My friend, by the way, loves the new album. “But you loved the lost album, this one’s completely different,” I told him. “Who cares? Shit is smooooth.” No question.
New Amerykah Part 2 (Return of the Ankh) is out now via Universal Motown. Buy it here. Or wash a neighbor’s dog for fun!