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The Neo-Soul singer Erykah Badu released "New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)" as her fourth album in 2008. Seen to be somewhat of a comeback, after dropping "Honey" as a promo single (and one that didn't actually find it way onto the record itself, she was able to once again reconnect with listeners who had missed her since the album prior to this in 2003 as she does more to merge R&B, Jazz, Hip Hop, Funk and Rock together as only she can.
1. "Amerykahn Promise"
We find her setting off the album in a manner that I really couldn't argue with as we find that in it she makes no effort whatsoever to try and hold back what she is attempting to do with this concept album built around her country as it is and what it offers (and the drawbacks of it too) and so opens up with a track that has her exploding out with Funk and ensuring that she grabs the listeners attention immediately with a collaboration with Roy Ayers.
2. "The Healer"
We get a great track from the singer on this one as she brings out a track done as a dedication to J Dilla (who had passed since contributing to lots of other Badu releases. With this one she goes into something quite spacey and in shows just how far she differs from the typical acts there at the time in what she can offer and how she is fighting everything with the Hip Hop culture that she represents so well (without tending to dip into the MCing side of things too often).
We get production on this one that has a distinctive Mid-West Hip Hop feel to it, but I found that in it I got another powerful joint from the musician as she goes into more of her soulful material that you really won't be able to take yourself out of once it has begun. There's so much going on within it that I needs s few listens to get its full effects and I can't really see why you wouldn't won't to do so.
4. "My People" (Lude)
Comign off a heavy looped track, we see that she dives into one of the singles with this one and I felt that it was a strong one to represent the album by (with "Honey" being taken from the main body of the record) as in it we get a tune that uses a lot from the past Badu albums, but adds to it with much deeper messages injected in its lyrics. It improves over time and will take you in on the first hearing.
6. "The Cell"
This track is a hardcore one and a track that works very well off the back of the last one where you see that we were given a tune with a bit more of a punch to it before we were thrown into this; a heavy Hip Hop and Funk-based jam where she advances it all massively through more of the experimentation that her fans have come to expect of her. It does a lot and livens it up at this stage of the thing.
You get very original production in this one and something that features trips and effects that you really have to hear to understand. In spite of just how odd the combination of all the layers of sound there are here, I felt that it all worked and once you are able to feel the flow of it you will be able to see how well it relates to her past work with more live instrumentation than electronically-based stuff, where it works to the same effect, but goes about it from a different route.
8. "Master Teacher"
This is a rather cluttered tune and one that you really need to put in some effort to try and understand (as it is another that has rather excessive sound-layering going on within it). Once you can feel this, as you would have had to have taken some time to, you feel some thought-provoking lyrics coming through from both her and Georgia Anne Muldrow as a great complimentary guest to the record.
9. "That Hump"
We have the pace lowered quite a bit as this one comes into effect and you see that she really needs to change the way in which she goes out to perform her music, and in doing so, with her musical influence being so widespread, it made it easy for her to shift from one style to one completely different as she gives a little Blues in this track and does well to make it sound contemporary in the process
Erykah brings this album to a close with a lengthy tune that has her packing in all the little extra things that she can with this return album. It is a gentle and soothing tune that you can't really complain too much about as she opts for a jazzy cut where things tend to feel rather passive and as if she isn't putting much effort in, but is still able to take you right in with her music and all it has within it.
Although I can't say I prefer it over the three albums that came before it, I have to say that it is a strong album from Badu and one that you are likely to enjoy if you were into the rest (as well as music from other prominent Neo-Soul musicians). It would have been topped off if the 9th Wonder-produced "Honey" had been added into the mix, but without it the record seems like it is missing something that they rest had.
This is probably the most ignored of Erykah Badu's albums. Although she is an amazing singer and a brilliant songwriter, for some reason she never seems to gain as much credibility as other artists in her genre (dare I say male). It really is unfair because her lyrics are really quite raw and politically focused. You would think this would put her up there with Rage Against The Machine and their amazing 'Killing In the Name of'.
This album is probably her most hip-hop sounding album so far, but still with a really mellow sweet sound (considering the topic of her songs). It also have a really vague and experimental sound at times, changing
flow and sometimes even stopping suddenly without it seeming like the tune has ended. It kind of feels like when you are driving or walking down a busy market street in the summer: you can hear a variety of music stopping and starting as you pass different stores and stalls. If you are listening really carefully then it can be a bit annoying but if you just let it wash over you subconciously then it can be a really nice dreamlike affect.
As mentioned before, lyrically this is heavy: "The Healer," tells how hip-hop is bigger than religion and government; "The Cell" is about drug abuse with some really insightful, honest and poetic lines. "Soldier" has the amazing line "Now to folks that think they livin' sweet/They gone fuck around and push 'delete''. And there is much more besides that should be worth a mention, but that would spoil the real magic and insight of this album for those considering buying it.
Although this album does have an easy sound initially, none of the lyrics are easy to hear, especially with direct references to Hurricane Katrina and terrorist attacks. But for the more intelligent listener this really is the chess of hip-hop and definitely something that should be accredited far more than it is. Absolutely my favourite of her albums so far!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Amerykahn Promise
2 The Healer
4 My People
6 The Cell
8 Master Teacher
9 That Hump
11 Real Thang
13 New Amerykah Bandlink