Erykah Badu at James L. Knight Center January 14
After a five-year period absent of new releases, 2008's New Amerykah Pt. 1: 4th World War earned Erykah Badu the kind of critical acclaim most artists seek throughout an entire career. This is thanks to the disc's winning, futuristic blend of hip-hop, soul, electronica, and R&B. It's was praised by both the R&B fans who made her a star and oh-so-judgmental rock critics who generally avoid that genre.
The 2010 follow-up to that album, New Amerykah Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh, seems primed for the same kind of success — fans and media-types can't seem to get enough of Badu's free spirit.
"I did them all at the same time," Badu says. "I wrote all those songs at once. When I had the so-called writer's block — which really wasn't just writer's block, but was just downloading and gathering — after that period, I began to flow like a waterfall, with words and lyrics and ideas. And not only musically, but in my love-life and with my children and with teaching and creativity, with fashion... Just everything. It started to flow at once."
Yet there is a clear division between parts one and two of New Amerykah. Some of the songs, such as part one's anthemic hip-hop-as-religion track, "The Healer," show Badu's experimental, more deliberate side. Meanwhile, part two's crop finds the artist taking pleasure in her life's current groove. Even its title, Return of the Ankh, is a specific callout to her debut 1997 release, Baduizm. The Egyptian symbol of the ankh was represented in that album's artwork.
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But to say New Amerykah, Pt. 2 is a throwback to the same style of that first album is just half the story. "I feel that way again," she says. "It has nothing that has to do with the sound. It's always gonna sound like me. Baduizm is part of me. But how I feel is fearless. I have no expectations of myself. It's a beautiful feeling. I feel like I'm hungry, like I was before anything came out. I feel competitive. I feel beautiful. It's just the same feeling. And the Return of the Ankh is just a return to that part in my life."
Those feelings are evident in her productivity. With each of her previous albums, the label had to take the album from Badu. This time, she was able to meet the deadline and give the songs to the bigwigs before they asked — with a couple hours to spare, even.
And maybe that's why this second installment of New Amerykah feels more cohesive than the first, confidently riding the down-tempo flavor of "Window Seat" to a breezy, thought-provoking end.
"It's therapy for me, what I do," she says. "And I don't feel responsible for the world in any kind of way when it comes to music.
"I just have to be honest," Badu continues. "And the more honest I am, the more inspiring it is. I know what the fuck I'm doing."
"I'm hungry like I was before anything came out. I feel competitive. I feel beautiful."
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