July 2008

Erykah Badu - New Amerykah (Part One/Fourth World War)
Universal 0010800-02
Format: CD
Released: 2008

by Shannon Holliday

Musical Performance **1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment **1/2

I’ve 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; she’s been a prophetess with a microphone. That’s why I’m sad to say she’s 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, it’s hard to not only understand but also listen to.

With respect to her unwavering creativity and a voice that won’t 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," I’m 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 Badu’s 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.