Erykah Badu claims she’s “no braver than any other artist,” but her fifth studio album New Amerykah Part II: Return of the Ankh screams a sort of firefighter’s courage. This coming from a pint-sized, hair-wrapped, green-eyed “Fat Belly Bella,” sauntering into the back room of New York City’s Chung King Studios last week holding a stick of burning incense. Yes, Badu is clearing the air before she gives the gift of music to the press.
Critics know what to expect. The 38-year-old Dallas, Texas native has taken chances, and her creativity is undeniable. As the sequel to 2008’s New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War, due February 23, 2010, begins to play from the speakers and the lights dim, everyone has their seat belt fastened, and maybe even the child safety lock secured. Featuring contributors from Part One—James Poyser, 9th Wonder, Sa-Ra, and Madlib—the soulful songstress prepared the passengers in the room for one hell of an auditory ride. The word on the street is love, but that cliché is ridden here with abstract lessons and samples from the Notorious B.I.G.
Rap-Up.com takes a track-by-track look at Erykah Badu’s new and improved Amerykah.
1. “20 Feet Tall”
When Badu asks, “What did I do to make you fall so far from me?” she sorrowfully wonders what she did to push herself away from the one that she holds dear. She uses the analogy that she feels “20 Feet Tall” over keyboard riffs courtesy of 9th Wonder.
2. “Window Seat”
“I don’t want to time travel no more. I want to be here,” Badu states while The Roots’ ?uestlove plays the drums and James Poyser strokes the keys. Being in the moment is one challenge of the song, on which she wishes for “a window seat for a ticket out of town to look around.” It also seems that the “Tyrone” hitmaker is looking for an escape, “a chance to fly, a chance to cry.”
“What a day, what a day,” Badu laments on the track, which will remind listeners of the first verse from her 1997 Baduizm hit “On and On.” But this time she is fed up and wants to “pull his thing out, but it’s against the law.”
4. “Get Money”
Some may say a hip-hop album isn’t complete without a Biggie reference, but Badu extends the unspoken rule to soul. Over Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s “Get Money,” she uses money as a metaphor for love, time, affection, laughter, and all the good parts of her lover. “I look like a model/ I’ll do what I got to to stay in the running/ ’Cause I want your money,” she boasts. But what she longs for, above all, is control. “Let me drive your car because honey I want you bad!” she sings.
5. “Don’t Be Long”
The sweet sounds of Badu’s voice and a banjo blast through the speakers as she celebrates the simplicity of a single thought—the pain of waiting. “I can’t wait to see how you move/ I can’t wait to see what you do, so don’t be long,” she tells her lover.
Before this song is played, a sound similar to that of the Emergency Broadcast System completely shocks the crowd. Badu uses the 30 seconds to describe the difference between the frequencies of fear and love, stating that fear has a low frequency and moves slow and love has a high frequency and moves fast. After that interruption, we return to our regularly scheduled program, and “Love” takes us back, way back, to the days of feel-good music. “I love how you make me feel,” she professes to the male in question, thereby creating a high frequency.
7. “Umm Hmm”
This is one of the songs on the album in which Badu’s voice can be heard joking in the background. While her man is loving her, she is cheating on him with his friends and can’t help but laugh. “You loving me and I’m driving your Benz, and I’m fucking your friends.”
8. “Fall in Love”
Using a sample from Eddie Kendrinks’ “Intimate Friends” (also used by Alicia Keys on “Unbreakable”), she warns her suitor over and over, “You don’t want to fall in love with me.” She also demands that if she stays, he should prepare to have his stuff rearranged. If that’s a threat, taking heed would be the best thing to do.
This is quite a celestial interlude, and sounds like someone used the studio board as a playground for different sounds. The experimental quality of the track makes it one to remember.
10. “Out My Mind Just in Time (Part 1) (Undercover Over-Lover)”
“I’m a recovering undercover over-lover recovering from a love I can’t get over!” Try saying that 10 times fast. In this tongue twister, Badu recoups from giving her man more than she gives herself in the relationship. But of course, time heals the wounds. Before she leaves, she presses upon her mate and tells him how far she would go for his love.
11. “Out My Mind Just in Time (Part 2)”
This song is quite psychedelic. It sounds like two songs mixed over each other to create the effect of having two beats. Badu expresses that she “built a wall like 10 feet tall” and in the end, she’s out her mind just in time. The album ends with one simple cheer of children, a confirmation that her thoughts and views are heard, understood, and validated.