Erykah Badu has always marched to the beat of a different drummer, but on her fourth studio album, New Amerykah, Pt. One: 4th World War, she seems to have almost completely abandoned the concept of making traditional R&B/Soul songs. The album, which will be released in the U.S on Feb. 26, 2008 - which happens to be Erykah's 37th birthday - is less like an album of music and more like a hour-long jam session by a band equally inspired by hip-hop and '70s Funk. Although artists who think outside the box should always be applauded, it seems that on this album, our Ms. Badu may have taken things too far into left field.
The AmErykahn Way
In an interview before the album came out, Erykah Badu said that this is the album she's been waiting her whole life to make and that the music is the star here. And as the title makes obvious, New Amerykah, Pt. One: 4th World War
is an esoteric concept album, the true, absolute meaning of which is probably unknown to anyone except Erykah herself and the album's producers, which include underground/alternative hip-hoppers 9th Wonder and Madlib. This album is light years away - in tone, lyrics and atmosphere - from Erykah's debut LP, Baduizm
. But anyone who's heard Erykah's last album, 2003's brilliant but under-promoted Worldwide Underground
will understand how she veered toward the direction of New Amerykah
The album kicks off with social commentary "Amerykan Promise," which sounds like it could be from a scene in one of those old "blaxploitation" movies from the early 1970s. "Oh, we love love you. We love to suck you dry, all the while keepin' you high, an authoritative male voice, presumably embodying the U.S. government, says at one point. It, and other songs are impersonal and esoteric, with Badu's vocal work at a minimum, supplanted by Funk beats, chants, beeps, sound effects and other audio flourishes that are interesting but not at all necessary. Perhaps most disappointing is that Erykah almost seems like a guest on her own album sometimes.
Single cover © Motown Records.
Of New Amerykah
's 11 tracks, the two truly outstanding songs are the album's first single, the funky, funky love song "Honey;" and the album's most personal song, the quirky "Me." "Honey" is one of the few traditional verse-chorus-verse songs on the album, and its refreshingly different from the album's more scattered/less focused concept songs. And it's on the song "Me" where Badu is most direct and non-metaphorical, with her singing her thoughts and feelings about her life: "This year I turned 26; Damn, it seem it came so quick, my ass and legs have gotten thick - it's all me
Other than the two aforementioned songs, there's other compelling tracks, "Soldier," "Twinkle" and the financial struggle song "That Hump" to name three. But the quality songs are somewhat overshadowed by the album's more disjointed, uneven material, such as the confusing, nearly seven-minute-long "Master Teacher." There's no truly horrible songs on the album, but New AmErykah Pt. 1 is an album where individual songs don't matter as much as the package as a whole. And that's how the album needs to be listened to - the whole thing in one sitting. Or actually perhaps several sittings, because these songs are so beyond what's the considered the norm in music today that it may take awhile for them to grow on you.