New Amerykah

22May08

To my old fogey ears, Erykah Badu is a fine example of an artist whose songcraft has been depleted by CD era bloat and contemporary ideas about how an album is put together.  An excellent songwriter whose first two albums are the peak moments of contemporary R&B, her soundscapes on 2003’s Worldwide Underground and the new New Amerykah: 4th World War have reduced her songs to bit part status.  Thus it is possible for the new album to have, by my count, nine and a half good songs (out of eleven), but for the whole album to be kind of boring — in any event, for the album to come on like background music rather then something benefitting your full attention.

Bloat — 75 minute albums with 50 minutes of great music — is an old issue.  Fifteen years after I complained that Stakes Is High was inferior to Buhloone Mindstate only because of its length, it goes without saying that eleven songs means song lengths typically above six minutes.  What’s specific here is that the songs themselves are fragmentary, sectioned into disparate parts which lessen their drive, literally make it harder to remember what that song that came before was about. 

To take an obvious counterexample, Mary J. Blige’s Growing Pains — an album I care about less because I have lower expectations of Blige — never loses the identity of a song by reducing its lyrical hook behind the mush of production.  As a result, it’s lesser songs and redundent themes (“Feel Like A Woman”, “Talk To Me”) produce music you remember after the album is over. 

None of which is to say New Amerykah is a bad or unlistenable album.  In fact, it’s ripe for doing your own edit, not only of the tracks but of the songs, in the mp3 software of your choice.  In particular, the middle section, “Soldier”/”The Cell”/”Twinkle” are the up to the moment Stevie Wonder you crave, and “The Healer/Hip Hop” and “Telephone”, are something else altogether. 

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4 Responses to “New Amerykah”

  1. 1 schweitzito

    The Badu sounded good when I played it twice the week it came out, but over several months now I haven’t given the attention I suspect it deserves, which may mean it doesn’t. But really, name me two cuts on Stakes Is High that wouldn’t bring down Buhloone Mindstate at least a little.

  2. 2 schweitzito

    Also, Stakes Is High was 1996.

  3. 3 Kenny

    the bizness
    dinninit
    brakes
    dog eat dog
    4 more
    stakes is high
    sunshine

    that’s just off the top of my head

  4. 4 schweitzito

    I just took a trip up to the attic (a measure of my commitment — my attic is a bad place to be if the sun is out when it’s more than 65 out) but couldn’t find Stakes Is High (around 80% of my collection’s up there). I wonder how many other CD’s fell between the cracks when I moved, though it’s possible they just landed in the wrong pile up there somewhere — in the fall I’ll organize it better, yeah right. All I have on my ipod is “The Bizness,” the first track off the top of your head. They clearly outclass the Roots at the game the Roots were just then getting on — their traded vocals (including Common’s) make the music the bare and unchanging beats and keyboard riff shies away from. But didn’t shy away from shit, every single track surprises rather than merely excelling, shifting and punctuating, building and drawing back, tossing in samples, sing-song, call-and-response, funny voices, sound effects, vocals closer or further in the mix than you expect to be, loads of extra syallables, a capella. And all that I got from the 2:27 of “Eye Patch,” which I’ve never considered at all anomalous or special on . As for lyrics, I don’t hear anything in “The Bizness” as outspoken as “The good the bad and Uncle Tom,” not to mention, ” be the in ’cause the brother holdin’ glocks is out /I be the in ’cause the pusher runnin’ blocks is out/
    I be the in ’cause the kid smokin’ weed,
    Shootin’ seed which leads to a girl’s stomach
    Being ’bout a half a ton is out.”
    “Do not connect us with those champaign sippin money fakers” is pretty good, and so is Common’s “At one point in rhyme I thought I lost my erection/ But then I got it back with the Resurrection,” except that it comes after a totally gratuitous homophobic dig at out swimming champ Greg Lougainis. At the time of Buhloone Mindstate, I don’t believe they would have countenanced a guest shot as even partially offensive as that.


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