Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) (2008): Review

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Produced by 9th Wonder, Erykah Badu (exec.), Mike “Chav” Chavarria (exec.), Madlib, Georgia Anne Muldrow, James Poyser (co-exec.), Karriem Riggins, Sa-Ra, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.
Label – Universal Motown

There’s something to admire about Erykah Badu’s multifaceted musical ambitions. The unflinching promise of delivering her neo-soul progressively through the course of literary concepts that tie a whole album together is refreshing in the world of single track downloads, instant hits and unfocussed mix tapes. Indeed, “New Amerykah” was slated as the first installment of a trilogy of recordings tackling myriad socio-political themes including poverty, race issues, law makers and drug takers. As if to highlight the introspectively dark tones, the 9th Wonder produced single “Honey”, is an ill fitting, yet brightly enchanting love song that traces back to “Baduizm”and tags to the end of the album as a mysterious hidden bonus track. Badu employs numerous associates for the rest, including Madlib, Shafiq Husayn and Taz Arnold, who add more computer generated grooves than any previous release. This enables tighter rhythmical structure to the songs, and the clean beats allow Badu to pursue her spacey doodles in the knowledge that whichever lyrical path she follows, the backing is tight, if a little colourless.

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Sadly, “New Amerykah” fails to live up to the expected promise. The songs are too long, particularly when one considers that the majority don’t follow a traditional verse/chorus regime. Most meander on a single groove and basic melody, with Badu’s stream of consciousness chants becoming unusually repetitive, like she’s working too hard to hammer a point and not utilizing her biggest asset, her beautiful voice. A perfect example is the minimalist “The Healer”, which drones on and on over a descending scale of six simple bass notes. There’s nothing revelatory in her messages either; it’s the usual social gripes of bad Government, falling buildings, extreme hardship, levees breaking and crooked cops, all of them fleetingly directed. That said, there seems genuine sincerity in her lines, even if at times they lack the depth to substantiate a headline. Her salute to the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan on “Me” (“so I salute you Farrakhan, ‘cos you are me”), a man banned in the UK for alleged anti-semitic and homophobic statements will no doubt draw some difficult questions. There are of course moments of genuine heartfelt inspiration both musically and lyrically, which include a wonderful tribute to the late J.Dilla on “Telephone”, the early 70s flavour of “Amerykahn Promise”, and the single “Honey”, but for many Badu fans this is a monumental step away from the essence of what built her career and one believes that in years to come, positive critical memories will be recalled from the quality of “Baduizm” and “Mama’s Gun”. Whilst one can appreciate that she’s attempting something that is at least sonically expansive, “New Amerykah” taken as a whole experience can, at times be a frustrating and difficult proposition.

Too often, “New Amerykah” sounds like a half developed, badly edited mess of great ideas.

6/10

Track Listing
Amerykahn Promise 4:16
The Healer 3:57
Me 5:38
My People 3:25
Soldier 5:03
The Cell 4:20
Twinkle 6:56
Master Teacher 6:42
That Hump 5:30
Telephone 7:15
Honey (Bonus Track) 5:25

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