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Erykah Badu - New Amerykah 

Of all the artists credited with ushering in neosoul, Erykah Badu has proven to be the most consistently innovative. Her previous records Mama’s Gun and Worldwide Underground were nearly avant-garde releases, charting new terrain while her contemporaries Jill Scott and Musiq gravitated towards more conventional r&b. With New Amerykah, Badu has reaffirmed her reputation as an artist unafraid to take chances. While not immediately accessible, the album reveals new pleasures with extended listening.

Musically, Amerykah is built on a strong funk foundation. The production is mainly handled by people unfamiliar to the mainstream, such as Madlib, Sa Ra Creative Partners, and Ninth Wonder.  Although many of the beats were programmed, there is an underlying grit that provides the perfect backdrop for the subject matter of “The Cell” and “Soldier.” “Me” is one of her most personal songs and a self-reflective classic with a gorgeous horn line courtesy of Roy Hargrove. 

As always, the meaning of Badu’s lyrics can be difficult to interpret, as is the case with the opening “Amerykan Promise.” Riffing over a sample of Ramp’s “American Promise,” the groove is funky but you're likely to be confused by the commentary unless you're familiar with Kemetic theory. The same is true of “Master Teacher,” a Curtis Mayfield-sampling tour de force where Georgia Anne Muldrow steals the show before the song flips to a soothing mellow groove.

On the other end of the spectrum, “Telephone” is possibly the best of the growing catalog of tributes to the late J Dilla.  Badu really put her soul into this one, and the production from James Poyser and Questlove fits the vibe perfectly.

With so many weighty topics dominating the album, it seems obvious that the lead single “Honey” was added to provide some levity to the proceedings. More straightfoward and lightweight than anything else on the record, it is a nice track but not reflective of the album as a whole. 

Very few artists of Badu’s stature are willing to risk their popularity with such an unconventional album as New Amerkyah, and early reaction to the record suggests this will be something you either love or hate. Perhaps those who are put off by its experimentation will be satisfied by the other albums she has scheduled for release this year. For now, Amerykah is a treat for her hardcore fans and proof that funk lives on.

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