“I guess you call it to the left,” Erykah Badu says of her music, specifically New Amerykah: Pt. 1 (4th World War), her latest album.
It ventures beyond the soul-blues-jazz for which she was initially known into psycho-hip-hop-blaxploitation-dub. Call it a sonic backdrop that matches her lyrics that have always been challenging — think obscure references to the Five Percent Nation or Kemetic Orthodoxy, a traditional Egyptian religion.
Ever since 1997, when she leapt into the public eye with her Grammy-winning blues-soul debut Baduizm, Badu has been considered slightly kooky. There were the towering head wraps, oversized Ankhs, burning incense and concerts turned tea parties. Years later, when a journalist outed her for wearing artificial dreadlocks, she took to wearing enormous Afro and pageboy boy wigs, which she is now known to fling off mid-concert and arrange backwards on her head.
Yes, Badu, whose current stage show involves play with stability balls, tapping out eerie sounds on a Mac and stage diving, has always been, at least publicly, strange. But in an R&B landscape full of copycat sex vixens, her trippy persona and evolution from neo-soul hippie to funk priestess has made her a beloved icon.
Though her fans have followed her through her shift away from neo-soul into cosmic crooning, people who fell in love with her more frankincense-and-myrrh leanings will be pleased to know that her next album, tentatively called New Amerykah Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh promises old-school Badu.
“This is a very mental record,” she says of Pt. 1, which sounds like what might happen if Bjork went hip hop and R&B. “The second one is very emotional. During 1997 through 1999, there was a certain feeling I had; I was studying Kemetics. That’s the feeling I have when I listen to the second part. It’s a return of that feeling and time, and it reminds me of Baduizm.”
A taste of the new album, due later this summer, is out now. Honey, a gooey love song, is called the current album’s hidden track, which is only half-true considering it’s the only song from Pt. 1 to get released as a single and earn a video.
“That’s the sound,” she says of Pt. 2 before explaining that the progression between the songs was organic. “When we made it, we hadn’t split the songs up. But that’s the kind of stuff Erykah does.”