20 Watts


20 Watts Essays: Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Part 2: Return of the Ankh (3)

social and economic justice,”  2.) “a powerful goddess-based religion,” 3.) “a strong ideology of motherhood,” and 4.) “a general moral principle of love.”  Erykah Badu re-invents this African matriarchy well, on wax, for New Amerykah, Part Two: Return of the Ankh.  (The ankh is a symbol of life and sexual holism or completeness.)

(And you can sense it in Emek’s amazing artwork for Badu if you buy the CD or LP instead of iTunes.)

The album that opens with “20 Feet Tall” (“…if I get off my knees / I might recall / I’m 20 feet tall”) climaxes in “Out My Mind, Just in Time.”  It will no doubt make many think of “Green Eyes” from Mama’s Gun.  Several seconds longer, it too is an opus in three movements (10:21), this one co-produced with Georgia Anne Muldrow (and partly inspired by Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad’s “What I Will”).  On this one, Badu realizes she is a “recovering undercover lover.”  On this one,  she learns to get over love games, love blame, unhealthy love addiction.  Styles galore, she is able to get right with love and get love right – “just in time.”  She moves from an old mind frame to a new mind frame in this focus on emotion and freedom.  And she’s a “Flying African” again:  “20 feet up out of ashes,” she can rise, “like birds and children…. I’ll take my Phoenix flight.

With this new philosophy of “love” on record, Badu says she conquered its opposite (“in the humankind experience”), “fear,” in the guerilla filmmaking of “Window Seat.”  She arose from “Group Think” assassination with “E V O L V E” tatted across her back – skin shed, “liberation set in,” and she was “out [her] mind, just in time.”  The former Black Panther Elaine Brown quotes Martin Luther King, Jr., in The Condemnation of Little B:  New Age Racism in America (2008), the largely unquoted King who questioned “the whole society” (i.e., white racism, capitalist exploitation, imperialist war) and who concluded, “America, you must be born again!”  In the age of 99¢ singles which she rejects, Erykah Badu’s two-disc project speaks of such revolutionary dreams or dreams of revolution far beyond tricknological reforms.  “Amerykah” is her own attempt at a blueprint for another place in this place, or universe.  The promo slogan for New Amerykah, Part One: 4th World War (2008) was “Freeing the Slaves and the Masters,” a reference to industry-appropriated music rights as well as what George Jackson named “neo-slavery” in general.  New Amerykah, Part Two: Return of the Ankh (2010) completes the revolution of her imagination.  It’s the musical matter of the other, right (“emotional”) side of the brain, where we also need to be “woke.”  And, like all people’s revolutions, we can feel how good it is from head to toe all over our bodies.

<<PART 2<<


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