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Erykah Badu

  • Baduizm,
  • Mamas Gun,
  • Worldwide Underground,
  • New Amerykah Part One,
  • New Amerykah Part Two,
  • But You Cain't Use My Phone,

  • Album Reviews |

    Erykah Badu

    Baduizm 9 ( 1997, UK pos 17 )
    Rimshot (Intro) / On & On / Appletree / Otherside Of The Game / Sometimes... (Mix #9) / Next Lifetime / Afro (Freestyle Skit) / Certainly / 4 Leaf Clover / No Love / Drama / Sometimes / Certainly (Flipped It) / Rimshot (Outro)

    A debut album from a new ( nu? ) soul singer. Her voice gives faint traces of past vocal legends such as Billie Holiday. Faint traces, it's not a dead ringer, but if you like Billie Holiday, yeah, there are moments here enough to make you smile. Really, it's irrelevant because Erykah is enough of an artist in her own right. In fact, it seems from listening to this record that she arrived fully formed and distinctive - I've not heard another album quite like this. Her character shines through the songs, and that's not always the case with modern soul. The very fact that Erykah does have a distinctive voice helps enormously in this. Sure, the musical backing at times seems like generic modern R&B but her voices sails effortlessly over the top and shapes the music in the process. As far as the songs here are concerned, they are easy to listen to on a surface level but dig deeper, listen more - and nuances and depths are revealed. The lyrics are fine, quality things. "Rimshot' is a short opener, a prelude -  not a song as such, but it leads perfectly into second song, "On & On". Which really, is just a fantastic song, plain and simple. Her voice is languid, sensual and playful all at the same time. It's a perfectly structured song and should have been a massive hit everywhere. Other highlights include  "Appletree", an up-tempo piece of playfulness and fun with her voice doing all sorts of things to help you smile. Such a fantastic voice, you've really got to focus on it. Well, you don't have to, of course, but it's hard not to. Very hard indeed to resist, and why would you? This is glorious stuff.

    "Otherside Of The Game" is a longer song stretching  out and nicely relaxing the listener. In fact, nearly all the songs here have something to recommend about them although the alternate mixes grate on me a little. "Sometimes... ( Mix #9 )" and "Certainly (Flipped It)" -  if they are padding, they aren't needed here. We could have done without them and they prevent this album quite being perfect. It's still pretty fantastic, I'd recommend it to anybody, certainly. Erykah Badu is different, she's unique. That wondrous voice of hers alone will ensure she has a long career ahead of her.

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    Readers Comments

    pino pinosabatelli@virgilio.it
    Tomorrow I'll buy Baduism I adore the other 2(the live one too)....I have a recording of her concert in Rome (Vhs & cd) 6 songs...But a great performing...I'm waiting 4 16 September......I suppose the next one will be great!!!!! GREATINGS from Italy South...40° today!!

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    Mama's Gun 8 ( 2000 )
    Penitentiary Philosophy / Didn't Cha Know / My Life / ...& On / Cleva / Hey Sugah / Booty / Kiss Me On My Neck / A.D. 2000 / Orange Moon / In Love With You / Bag Lady / Time's A Wastin' / Green Eyes

    There was a long old wait for this official follow up to the mighty 'Baduizm'. It finally arrived, and after some confusion concerning the track-listing ( two different versions were released, initially ) has settled down to become the fine album and follow up that it is. It's both harder hitting and more playful than 'Baduizm' at the same time, if that makes sense. The pressure of following up that particular record does show in places, but for the most part, she forgets everything and does whatever the hell she likes. "Penitentiary Philosophy" is a case in point, it sounds mighty fine musically, a full Motown styled production. Appropritate really, as this came out on Motown Records! Motown are signing a good batch of new talent recently, and it's good to see.  "Didn't Cha Know" and "My Life" are recognizably the Erykah of 'Baduizm' and both very fine indeed. Soulful, the vocals soar and sound as great as ever. "Didn't Cha Know" is slick, moving, and features a great hypnotic bass groove that runs underneath everything. Her vocal really is wonderful and spine chilling. Shall I go on? "My Life" is poppy, but still soulful of course, given the sheer quality of her vocal performance. A few songs here take the Billie Holiday comparisons by the way, and meet them head on. Most particularly "Green Eyes" which opens complete with vinyl needle scratches and a jazzy atmosphere. Billie ( sorry, Erykah! ) does her best diva impersonation, and you know what? She has the voice to carry it off, she really does. "Green Eyes" is a song in sections that eventually reverts to Erykah's usual soul. A song over ten minutes in length, but because of the differing sections, remains interesting right through to the end. "Orange Moon" again shows a Jazz influence in the vocal performance but this time the music is pure and relaxed soul music. High quality soul music, and the backing vocals come in and add to the experience. Seven minutes long, relaxed, laid back. It's pretty wonderful and you've just got to love these vocals!

    If there is a noticeable fault with this record in comparison to her superlative debut, it's that it lacks as many obvious standout cuts. The middle section of the album flows by nicely enough, but doesn't make your hairs stand on end, for example. "Bag Lady" which appears towards the end is a highlight however that matches almost anything from 'Baduizm'. Overall this is a quality follow-up that consolidates rather than moves on her reputation, but long term that may prove to be a good thing. It's a pretty relaxing record on the whole, and great to chill out to.

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    Readers Comments

    Erykah Badu is awesome. She definately does her own thing and has a wonderful originality in the sound and the way she uses her voice. Id have to agree, Mama's Gun is one of the best albums i know of definitly. I just wanted to agree with u :) good article man peace

    kasahara-k kasahara-k@zushi-kaisei.ac.jp
    As well as producing great material, Erykah Badu is also brilliant live. If she's in your area don't miss the opportunity to catch her in concert. I saw her in Tokyo and was totally blown away by her. That was two years ago. Looking forward to her new material.

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    Worldwide Underground ( 2003 )
    World Keeps Turnin' (intro) / Bump It / Back In The Day / I Want You / Woo / Steady On The Grind / Danger / Think Twice / Love Of My Life Worldwide / World Keeps Turnin' (outro)

    What has she done, what HAS she done?? Labelled as an EP by Erykah herself, but still an LP, cos it's got ten songs and runs for 40 minutes plus, but that's by the by. Containing songs written whilst on tour, some of them based upon on-stage jams. Containing a few guest appearences along the way, the loathsome Lenny Kravitz gets his guitar somewhere within 'Back In The Day'. Queen Latifah and Angie Stone guest on 'Love Of My Life Worldwide', 'The Grind' barely features Erykah's own vocals at all - and this is 'Worldwide Underground'?? 'Baduizm' went five times platinum - huge success and Erykah has been imitated. Rather than imitate herself, the artwork here proclaims 'Neo Soul is dead - are you afraid of change?'. Her hair, her hair, man! She's got huge hair now, it's like she's been sent from a higher plane. The drawing of her on the rear of the CD - it's just like she's some kind of goddess, to be worshipped - in a religious sense. Bow down before Erykah. Is this some kind of ego trip, then?? Well, no - she's the real thing. No, she actually ISN'T a god-like figure, but yeah, she's special. The guest appearences of Queen Latifah etc, etc - just show how damn special Erykah herself is. The spots by Queen Latifah and Angie Stone on 'Love Of My Life Worldwide' threaten to drag the song toward hip-hop / soul normality. The male MC that runs riot all through 'The Grind' whilst Erykah herself can barely be heard - threaten to drag that song towards normality.

    'Worldwide Underground' opens and closes with a groove 'World Keeps Turnin'. Erykah herself isn't writing a lot of deep lyrics for this album - there's a lot of repetition of words, very few words actually - the feel is more important. She's changed the way she sings a little, seemingly less concerned with the power of her voice, less concerned with any kind of "hey, i'm a great voice" - to be replaced by more pure soul. 'Bump It' is a highlight here, running for eight minutes plus. Deliriously joyous and sensual, great beats, hypnotic. 'Back In The Day' is utterly lovely, and Lenny Kravitz? He don't get in the way none, actually. The groove is smooth, her words - scatting and simple, full of feeling. It's a song to send shivers all over you. 'I Want You' is sexual repetition, captures the feeling of love and sex, back and forth - it's damn hot. 'Danger' and 'Think Twice' are both quality, factor in 'The Grind' and 'Love Of My Life Worldwide' - and they actually end up helping the album overall - variety is the spice of life. Ah, 'Love Of My Life' is actually pretty damn good! Oh, one more thing before I go. I keep thinking of Marvin Gaye whilst listening to this album. Mentioning Erykah Badu in the same breath is now something that should be done, rather than any aspiration, or hope of what she's capable of acheiving. She's already acheived.

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    Danielle Wallace taetae_42000@Yahoo.com
    I totally agree with your review.I just saw Queen Erykah Badu in concert and she was AWESOME!

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    New Amerykah Part One ( World War 4 ) 9 ( 2008 )
    Amerykahn Promise / The Healer / Me / My People / Soldier / The Cell / Twinkle / Master Teacher / That Hump / Telephone / Honey

    I'm not primarily known for my love of soul or hip-hop, although I have an awful lot of it. A few select albums, like 'Paid In Full' by Eric B And Rakim are legendary however and among the favourite music I have. Yet, that indie / alternative guitar millstone I still seem to have around my neck? It was 'Baduism' that personally transformed me ‘back when’ and 'New Amerikah' is just as vital a transmission. The delay in Erykah realising 'New Amerykah' was a result of writer's block. She therefore purchased a computer in 2004 and worked on making music for herself, in her own space. She utilizes many different producers for this LP yet the common theme is Badu, her vision and artistic freedom.

    'New Amerykah' mixes hip-hop with her trademark soul and also sees something of a seventies/noughties meld in terms of style, the opening track being a Funkadelic styled number with few vocals but plenty of musical hooks. One of the first things you notice actually is how superb the album sounds. If she was worried about being left behind she's certainly right back at the forefront with 'New Amerykah'. Happily, everything is good. 'Master Teacher' for example is six and a half minutes, plenty of beats and dream-like vocals and phrases to open. Half way through, it turns into some lounge-soul-jazz number and becomes a mantra. 'Cell' opens with very rhythmic beats and she spins around them, happily. 'Telephone' is more slanted for long-term fans to appreciate but let’s hope Badu fans are open-minded to the rest of the LP too.

    ‘New Amerykah’ is like she's leading you through minefields and leading her people, but it's an all-inclusive event. Sure it takes time for these songs to sink in because the musical and vocal hooks are not common, lowest denominator. Her vocals have dropped a lot of the mannerisms that drew comparisons with Billie Holiday – although Badu still has a voice that owns the songs she sings. The production is clever throughout and beats as important as vocals - a significant change in Badu-world. Overall, the impressive ‘New Amerykah’ ( part one of three albums she’s due to issue ) is further proof Badu stands defiant in a field of imitators and weak ( hip-hop ) clones. She’s one of the few genuine mavericks we have, and we are lucky to have her.

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    New Amerykah Part Two (Return Of The Ankh) 8 ( 2010 )
    20 Feet Tall / Window Seat / Agitation / Turn Me Away (Get MuNNY) / Gone Baby, Don't Be Long / Umm Hmm / Love / You Loving Me (Session) / Fall In Love (Your Funeral) / Incense / Out My Mind, Just In Time

    'New Amerykah Vol 1' saw Erykah working in a digital format, something she was not used to but she learnt the ropes and did it anyway. It was a political album, an ambitious album, a wonderful album. 'Vol 2' contains songs more akin to her soul roots, not political, just lovely songs, just wonderful playing. I mean, the bass sounds especially wonderful yet nothing is just modern base average. Everything has a sense of history? Well, Badu is signed to Motown. She doesn't sell in the millions yet you get the impression that she's so artistically important to them they'd be suicidal to ever get rid of her.

    ‘New Amerykah Part Two’ has reached top ten in America although soon fell out of the charts and only tickled the top fifty in European countries. In my country, the United Kingdom, it reached number fifty-six on the album charts. Quite frankly, i'm absolutely disgusted. Why? Well, Badu is one of the most important, artistic and brilliant artists soul/hip-hop has produced. Yeah, really. I mean, she's streets ahead of many of her contemporaries. She doesn't follow fashion, she took five years or so out of the scene to have relationships and a baby, etc. She released a mini-album everyone hated because all the songs were ten minutes long. It got bad reviews because few people actually understood it. Is any of this relevant? Well, yeah. What initially can sound fairly dull (I suppose) just gets cleverer and cleverer the more you listen.

    'Umm Hmm' is worth the price of admission alone, choruses that sound like an AM radio switch into gloriously smooth, distinctive and soulful Badu vocals during the verses. '20 Feet Tall' meanwhile is a slightly strange way to open the album, being a slight slice of prettiness and little more. Still, the lyrics are intriguing and wonderfully sang and this mixture Badu vocals/lyrics and tinkling ascending keyboard melodies is really a lovely thing to have. 'Can't Turn Me Away' has an irresistable chorus and a fantastic, bubbling bass line that runs throughout. 'Window Seat' is enhanced greatly by Badu's vocals which raise it above the relatively straightforward R&B of the backing track.

    The only part of the album which for me falls flat is the trio of songs Love / You Loving Me (Session) / Fall In Love (Your Funeral). Clearly a concept of some sort but the tunes don't spark. It's a problem 'Vol 2' faces overall actually. Whilst the highpoints are as high as any Badu highpoints, the album doesn't quite succeed overall. I say that still considering it a superior example of modern soul because so few artists these days can touch Badu when she's at her best, as she is for around four of these twelve songs. As for the other eight, even average Badu is still better than the average of many other artists I know of within the genre.

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    But You Cain't Use My Phone 8 ( 2015 )
    Caint Use My Phone Suite / Hi / Cell U Lar Device / Phone Down / U Use To Call Me / Mr. Telephone Man / U Don’t Have To Call / Whats Yo Phone Number / Dial’afreaq / I’ll Call U Back / Hello

    Erykah does Drake's 'Hotline Bling', has fun, and so decides to put a phone-themed mix-tape out to end her five year musical hiatus. The title of this mix-tape is taken from Badu's own 'Tyrone' and is by necessity perhaps, less a collection of songs and more a random selection of musical ideas amid Badu stretching her studio muscles. I do wish Erykah would put more music out, from a purely selfish standpoint. She has a normal life to lead outside of being an artist and it seems to me her family and friends are far more important to her than being a commercial success or releasing music that isn't entirely to her own liking. In the UK, I have no Badu loving friends, which isn't surprising when it's nearly twenty years now since her one and only UK charting album, 'Baduism'. In nineteen years, Erykah has released only four, fully-fledged album releases, plus 'Worldwide Underground' which technically was an EP (albeit album length) and this, which technically is a mix tape. I'll take what I can get from Badu, basically. So, expect an entirely objective review? Well, we all have our biases and musical preferences. Modern RnB and Soul never were mine music preferences yet Badu broke the mold. You know those things on streaming sites, explore similar artists? Who on earth is even remotely similar to this lady? Certainly not D'Angelo, Jill Scott, Lauren Hill, Maxwell or India Arie at any rate.

    'Hello' isn't the Lionel Ritchie number, or the Adele number. This is Erykah and Andre 3000 collaborating and one of the best things here. Typical of Badu to put the track with the best chance of radio play last on her latest set. Smooth grooves, Badu constantly hello-ing and some rich vocal harmonies are highlights of 'Hello'. 'Cell U Lar Device' meanwhile is less a cover of Drake's 'Hotling Bling' and more a complete re-imagining that deserves to be a hit in its own right. 'Phone Down' is the other stand-out moment from the set, a simple set of grooves and beats and Badu firmly in soul-mode, late night city darkness and loneliness, yet with a shining beacon of warmth and hope. Overall, like many Badu sets actually, 'But You Caint Use My Phone' works best when listened to as a whole work - an increasingly rare concept in these days of playlists and spotify. It's not going to sit amongst her best and more essential albums, but you know what? I wouldn't want to be without this.

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    this page last updated 29/02/16

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