Monday, March 10, 2008

Erykah Badu | New Amerykah, Pt.1: 4th World War

Erykah Badu’s 2008 album New Amerykah, Pt.1: 4th World War is Sly & the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On on bad weed. Like that predecessor, this album aims to take a snapshot of the times, frankly depicting inner city struggles, drug habits, fights for freedom, and personal observations, while striving to be uplifting. Where Riot answered Marvin Gaye’s question by being lugubriously accessible and musically based on funky psychedelia, this one is dense, bleak, and all about hip-hop. Producers 9th Wonder (of Little Brother fame), Sa-Ra, and Madlib figure large in the sound of this record.

Multitracked vocals and dusky, paranoid beats populate many of the tunes. “The Healer” and “My People” showcase bombass Madlib beats, laidback concoctions chock full of blips, Eastern strings, and echoed keys. In these tunes, Badu sings of the power of hip-hop to heal and delivers the message to “Hold on, my people.”

The message in the music continues on “Master Teacher,” produced by Shafiq Husayn of Sa-Ra. The bass and drums pulse like a living, breathing organism. Most of the song features lead vocals interacting with the background vocals in call and responses. A recurring motif in the song is “I stay woke,” which, given the context of the rest of the lyrics, suggests a person’s ability not to be taken advantage of while in search of “a beautiful world.” Over Curtis Mayfield-inspired strings, Badu asks, “What if there was no niggas only master teachers now?” The coda of the tune is a soul-jazz groove that rides the cymbals and electric keys. When Badu shifts the accents in her phrasing, the rhythmic evenness is chopped and reconfigured.

Though the album ends with “Telephone,” a haunting requiem for friend, collaborator, and influential producer J Dilla, its 9th Wonder-produced hidden track, “Honey,” almost operates as a saboteur. Why would Badu make “Honey” the first single? Sure, it’s an infectious, bubbly ditty that says nothing (“Honey you so sweet/sugar got a long way to catch you”) compared to the dark, introverted jams that say a lot. But hey, maybe that’s exactly why.
(Photo credit: Marc Baptiste)

No comments: