20 Watts


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

luxuriate in:  “I just want a ticket outta town / a look around / and a safe touchdown,” “a chance to fly / a chance to cry / and a long bye-bye.”  Soon enough, she’ll also need someone to say, “come back, baby, come back.”  New Amerykah, Part One’s “Honey” was simply a snippet of the both soulful and Jazzy styles to come on New Amerykah, Part Two.  On this album, there is an overall level of musicality and musical quality that you may remember or recall from another day, but which you probably no longer expect from any part of the music industry today.  If Erica Wright grew up on Chaka Khan, her “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long” and “Umm Hmm” (which could have been entitled “Take Some Time to Let Your Feelings Show,” or “You Can’t Hide”) may explain why some futuristic songstresses will have grown up on Ms. Badu, whose vocals stay virtuoso here.

She is playful on “20 Feet Tall,” interludes (or musical shorts?) and other places.   So somebody’s going through a “thang” now on “Agitation” and wants to pull their “thang” out (as Badu croons, “What a day, what a day,” again, and again):  “But it’s against the Law,” she regrets.  Sometimes there are straight outbursts – of comedy:  “Uh, do you have that number to that other bass playa?”  The liner notes for “You Loving Me (session)” end up reading:  “( lyrics too terrible to write ).”  Still, if T-Pain could learn a thing or two, Badu would show him and Zapp how to modulate some stunning vocals on “Love.”  This woman sounds as if she’s in a serious relationship with these grooves, and almost every syllable sung:  “Never ever met another lover quite like you / Thought I fell in love with Superman,  it’s true / Even kryptonite cain’t make you lose your thang / Baby, baby, I’m about to go insane.”  And she likes it, choosing “love” over “fear” in the realm of human emotions, inviting her lover to concede an obvious love for her.  Her serious amount of playful experimentation is often seriously impressive.

The Madlib-produced “Incense” (or “Strawberry Incense,” as it was previewed online) is too sublime words, or so you’d think, until Badu appears halfway through its 3:25 to sing slowly and softly over Kristen Agnesta’s harp:  “Let the children show their light / This is the return to life / Fill your cup with love and joy / This is the return to life.”  (Her fans posted haiku poetry about this one.)  This is another piece of Badu whose shelf-life could know no bounds:  New Amerykah, Part Two:  Return of the Ankh is really not playing after all.

—–

While “Love” slyly shouts out J Dilla, it’s The Notorious B.I.G. who is more fully resurrected on this disc.  On “Turn Me Away (Get Munny),” she covers and flips the Sylvia Striplin original that was sampled by Junior M.A.F.I.A.  Since Lil’ Kim shouted her out on The Notorious K.I.M.’s “Suck My D**k” (2000), shall we pray to the goddesses for a “QUEEN B@#$H” remix?  The old Brooklyn-based “boho” Badu rapped over her “Crush on You” (1996/7) instrumental for Live, on an “On & On” reprise.  She’s freestyle, Hip-Hop to the bone.  Intergalactic, she channeled Afrika Bambaataa for 2006’s VH1 Hip-Hop Honors.  Not only did her “MC Apples” persona reappear for Worldwide Underground’s “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop),” but a freestyle aesthetic seems to be at the base of her entire songbook.  Plus, a hustle theme is all over her “Amerykah.”  So on this disc’s “Fall in Love (Your Funeral),” she revisit’s The  Notorious B.I.G.’s “Warning” (Ready to Die, 1994) as well and the result is thumping and infectious:  “It’s gon be some slow singin’ / and flower-bringin’ / if my burglar alarm starts ringin’ / … See, you don’t wanna fall in love me.”

“The Healer/Hip-Hop” wasn’t merely a song-event, isn’t it another Badu mic-name?

You ain’t the worsest one / I have done / But you’ll do / till he comes,” she continues (in a cadence which might call to mind “Tyrone”):  “See, we gon take this shit from the top / You gotta change jobs / … and change gods.”  Lyrically, she savors the mythology surrounding her love.  Folk believe she casts a powerful spell on powerful emcees – as in Andre 3000;  The D.O.C.;  Common;  and Jay Electronica?  The earliest Badu always did ASCAP with “Divine Pimp Pub[lishing].”  What’s more, as Matriarch of the polyandrous “Bambula” tribe, she once brought guerilla theater to Wendy Williams’s NYC radio show with both members of dead prez and their “42 Laws of Baduality,” which were lost on Isaac Hayes at the close of New Amerykah, Part One’s intro, “Amerykan Promise.”  Recently, on TV, she refused to give Chelsea Handler advice on how to nab a “Black rapper” because, she said, “I want ’em all.”  To conclude, she informed Jesse Serwer of Time Out (New York) magazine:  “We gotta stop the interview now because I see you’re falling in love, and I don’t want any more trouble.  You don’t want to do that.”   As the mythology goes, he would start wearing crocheted pants, “change jobs and change gods,” go through a ritual of rebirth (or, “funeral,” if you prefer) as a result of her magical spell.   (Live’s “Tyrone” is long, long gone.)  Badu can embrace the mythology and have big fun with it, when she revises it herself, twisting Biggie’s “Warning” subtly but significantly:  “You better go back the way you came / Wrong Way! / If you stay / Prepare to have your shit rearranged / the way / I say.

“I come from a long line of matriarchs,” she always maintains (Interview, 2008).  “I’m a result of my five mothers:   my mother, my grandmothers, my godmother and Mother Nature” (HOT97.com/TV).  In Ifi Amadiume’s Re-Inventing Africa:  Matriarchy, Religion & Culture (1997), the scholar-activist radically re-defines African matriarchy in terms of a “dual sex system” and a flexible gender system,” which historically includes:  1.) “a very clear message about

>>PART 3>>
<<PART 1<<


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