Album Review: New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War) by Erykah Badu
Exceptionally Good, Based on 5 Critics
AllMusic - 100 Based on rating 10/10
Downplayed and practically disregarded as it was, 2003's Worldwide Underground was an excellent and brave follow-up to 2000's Mama's Gun. Erykah Badu concedes she had nothing to say at the time -- the loose 50-minute "EP" was more about sounds than statements -- but she evidently holds herself to a high standard. Perhaps that streak was a factor in her protracted silence from its release to New Amerykah, Pt.
Review Summary: The soul album of the year.It's slightly depressing how soul has been marginalized since the days of Whitney Houston and Lionel Ritchie, and its adoption into the very heart of the mainstream. Contemporary R&B has become an entirely different beast, bearing at least as much in common with hip-hop as it does with the soul of the '60s and '70s. Neo-soul failed entirely to capitalize on its early hype and become a major player in commercial music, and the likes of Badu's fellow Soulquarian Bilal have been left by the wayside when they should be megastars.
They say that eyes are the windows to the soul. With Erykah Badu, however, it may be wiser to go directly to the hair. Badu habitually uses it as an extension of her art — wrapped, tied, dyed, or magnificently Afroed — but on New Amerykah‘s illustrated cover, it literally contains a multitude: fetuses, dollar signs, raised fists, weapons, syringes, flowers… Apparently, she’s got a lot on her mind.
For the last couple of years, singer/actor Erykah Badu has been largely off the radar, raising her kids, pursuing film and television roles and dealing with writer’s block. So working with a forward-looking crew of producers, musicians and writers, including Madlib, the Roots, Sa-Ra Creative Partners and Karriem Riggins, was a wise move; they do a decent job on the funky New Amerykah, a throwback to the black power sound and consciousness-raising themes of the 70s. There’s no doubt the disc will get her loads of attention, and it’s not just because of that dope Honey video clip.
The only thing resembling a pop single on Erykah Badu's latest opus is an afterthought tacked on as a hidden track. "Honey" is sweet and tasty, but Badu's brave New Amerykah is a liberated land, a wild embrace of experimentation, and a gleeful if occasionally paranoid freak-fest. A supercharged futuristic funk groove kicks things off like a lost P-Funk outtake, and if Funkadelic made albums today, it's easy to imagine them sounding like this (even the cover art raises a fist to Maggot Brain).