Ive always felt a strong magnetism toward Erykah Badu. She holds some sort of high-priestess sway over me, expounding metaphysical and philosophical over honey-dripping hip-hop. With slow sass, her previous albums have kept me simultaneously grooving and questioning; shes been a prophetess with a microphone. Thats why Im sad to say shes lost me with her latest release, New Amerykah (Part One/Fourth World War). As the garbled title suggests, this album is so concept-driven and over produced, its hard to not only understand but also listen to.
With respect to her unwavering creativity and a voice that wont quit, Badu knows how to meld funk and rap better than any other contemporary female artist, but New Amerykah takes that to another, ultimately lower level with excessive, self-indulgent talk tainting the good grooves nearly every time. Songs that claim to be one length end up closing out three minutes beyond, following extensive jive talking, pseudo-political jargon. With all her talk about "the struggle," Im struggling to remain interested.
There are a few saving graces on the disc: "The Healer" pays homage to late hip-hop producer James "J. Dilla" Yancey, with simple electronic keyboard and crash-symbol samples, allowing Badus elevating rhymes to shine. "Twinkle" has a back-in-black, Digable Planets feel, and "Telephone" is old-school Badu without the fuss. Otherwise, the album is a chaotic disappointment, eclectic at best.
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