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Erykah Badu: New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)

Erykah Badu: New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)

Release Date:2008

By Jess Harvell | Posted 5/7/2008

If Erykah Badu's decade-long trip has taken her from classical soul smoothness through the haze of stoned '70s R&B, the astounding New Amerykah Part One finds her brewing cosmic slop too odd and wide-eared to dismiss as retro. On one track she's kicking over Parliament's gutbucket; on another the horns are out to kill you softly rather than torch the roof. The harmonies on "Me" waft straight off an LP from the era of a Roberta Flack or a Regina Belle; the song's rhythm moves with a spectral, stuck-groove limp that's pure 21st-century and pure Jay Dilla, Badu's deceased collaborator.

The breadth of Badu's sonics--Alice Coltrane-style astral drones, chunky '80s hip-hop with the vinyl pops lovingly left in--is mirrored in her singing. She's freed herself from current sugar-coated R&B conventions to take in zonked quasi-rapping, Muppet groans delivered through a pinched nose, out-of-whack caterwauling as wild as the Raincoats--whatever texture a song's text may require. Once thought to be the inheritor of a chops-heavy tradition, Badu's voice is now an instrument that says soul-snob comfort zones be damned.

This isn't to say she's out to alienate, however. Badu actually wants to get the nod from the academy, outfreak her peers, play to their parents, navel-gaze her way into a better world, and blow away the one we've got in a big puff. All these competing intentions do sacrifice coherence, but she's also charmingly upfront about her excesses in the name of expanding minds. Pre-existing ideas about divahood will do you little good when approaching New Amerykah; now more than ever there's no box cut to hold Badu.

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