20 Watts


20 Watts Essays: Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Part 2: Return of the Ankh (1)

“The Importance of Stayin’ Woke:  BADU’s Part Two / Return of the Ankh

(GREG THOMAS)

Badu is Back,  “20 Feet Tall” and “Out [Her] Mind, Just in Time.”

It’s Erykah Badu – alias “Medulla Oblongata,” “Cerebellum,” “Lowdown Loretta Brown,” “Analog Girl in a Digital World,” “Annie the Alchemist,” “Fat Belly Bella,” etc. The artist’s Artist.  A watershed Original on airwaves awash with consumer icon flashback mediocre refurbs with high-priced trademarks.  The ill show(wo)man: One of the greatest shows on Earth.  The proverbial Musical Genius who is Black, female;  homegrown;  perversely overlooked and underappreciated, however dope – yet always on the move with work like this collection:  New Amerykah, Part Two: Return of the Ankh (2010).  Conceptually, it reconnects her audience to her beginnings on Baduizm (1997).  Otherwise, it picks up where New Amerykah, Part One: 4th World War (2008) left off and comes back for the emotional “right” part of the brain, in her words, the sonic history of Live (1997), Mama’s Gun (2000) and Worldwide Underground (2003) nicely in tow, too.

This shit sounds so good it’s criminal…ized, and out come the cops, literally.

“Window Seat,” the second track and first single is now the stuff of what the bourgeois crowd calls “controversy.”  It’s not because of the lyrics, for who listens to lyrics, in this “America,” North America?  Badu filmed a video for this song in her native Dallas, Texas, at the site of JFK’s assassination.  With a nod to duo Matt and Kim who did something similar but far less politically explosive in NYC’s Times Square (for “Lessons Learned”), Badu hops out of a car as “Window Seat” begins and starts to disrobe as she walks along her route – passersby unaware.  The song ends by the time she is just naked and just when she is naked, out of nowhere, she is shot.  She collapses to the ground, dramatically, falling on the words “Group Think,” which sprawl out in blue blood or ink.  In a voice-over, she then speaks:

They play it safe … Are quick to assassinate what they do not understand …  They move in packs … Ingesting more and more fear with every act of hate on one another …  They feel most comfortable in groups … Less guilt to swallow.  They are US! … This is what we have become … Afraid to respect the individual … A single person within a circumstance can move one to change … To love herself … To EVOLVE.

Someone shouts “Group Think!”  In a glimpse Badu reappears , joyously freed of constrictions before her short film is done.  But real-life, real-time “Group Think” confirms her thesis and wants her to pay:  “Erykah Badu Charged over Dallas Nude Video Shoot,” the headlines read.  The unevolved pack calls her performance art / guerilla film / full-bodied socio-political statement something else:  a “strip-tease.”  (Their only options are sexual puritanism and exploitation, typically in some combination.)  After an eyewitness visits her local police precinct to volunteer testimony, without which no charges could be filed despite nationwide calls for punishment, Badu is hit with a $500 fine – for “Disorderly Conduct.”

How appropriate, and no wonder George Jackson would push for “Perfect Disorder” in his second book, Blood in My Eye (1972).

In the 4th World War, on “Master Teacher,” Badu was “in search of something new” (“a beautiful world”) and she had us pledge in refrain:  “I  Stay  Woke.”  A long overlooked line from Frantz Fanon supports her righteously.  In The Wretched of the Earth (1963), he told elite intellectuals they need to strip naked and study the history of their bodies – to confront “the naked truth” of decolonization in anti-colonial liberation struggle.  And on Twitter (http://twitter.com/fatbellybella), she would make it plain:  “I’ve been naked all along in my words, actions and deeds.”  “They are not angry we are nude.  It angers them that we are awake — E. Badu.”

Still, not even cops, dry snitches or mobs could spoil “Window Seat.”  It’s a sort of way-out “Flying African” get-away tale with swing and melodies you can

>>PART 2>>

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