“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.”
Badu’s sonic backdrop
“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.