Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ms. Badu returns to her roots

Erykah Badu's New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) is a return to the roots that helped make her a star. With producers like ?uestlove (The Roots), James Poyser, and the late, great J Dilla, her latest effort is reminiscent of her 1997 debut, Baduizm, for it combines melodic flourishes, clever sampling (a combined reworking of both Sylvia Striplin and Notorious B.I.G. classics on "Turn Me Away (Get MuNNY)," and most importantly, live instrumentation. Badu's gifts as a vocalist doesn't lie in her ability to "sound pretty" or hold long, high notes like some of her contemporaries. She completely understands what her voice can actually do (with her playful "heys" and "ye-yos") and her ability to manipulate sounds, by combining inspired touches of Roy Ayers, Fela Kuti, and Dr. Dre throughout the album, is what makes her stand out from the rest. And the standout track on this album may also be her most personal, "Window Seat." She bares her soul on "Window Seat" (and bares all in the track's music video). It's a internal struggle between her desire to be just plain old "Erica Wright," left alone and inconspicuous, and the desire to be the artist the world knows and loves as "Erykah Badu." It's perhaps a familiar struggle that her fellow "Soulquarians" have struggled with (D'Angelo, most namely) who often chose the former rather than the latter. Ms. Badu may have replaced the head wraps and long gowns for top hats and humongous afros, but it's good to know that her desire to make music keeps her with us just a little while longer.

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