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May 3, 2010 | by  | in Music |
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Erykah Badu—New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)

Until recently I knew very little about neo-soul singers like Erykah Badu, D’Angelo or Bilal, beyond their guest appearances with the Soulquarians collective in the late 1990s and early 2000s. My first real connection point was Erykah Badu’s previous album, 2008’s New Amerykah Part One (4th World War). For a dude who may have once been accused of running away from slow jamz, that album amusingly seemed a whole lot more approachable due to Badu’s blatant shift into strange places—it was loaded with crazy social commentary concepts and collaborations with Madlib and Sun Ra—known culprits when shit gets weird.

The recent sequel, and Badu’s fastest follow-up record, New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), has managed to strike the extraordinary balance between the awesomely disjointed aesthetic of the first episode with her earlier more conventional work. As such, it just seems to push all of the right buttons with me. It catches the analogue warmth of 1970s R&B classics—explicitly in the singles ‘Window Seat’ and ‘Turn Me Away (Get MuNNY)’—but rather than relying solely on such a pleasant formula, the album finds plenty of room to mess things up with a few loose sample sketches and a host of hidden sonic details. To me, the track that most effectively captures Badu’s current strengths is the 11-minute closer ‘Out My Mind, Just in Time’, beginning with just solo piano and voice, moving into an off-kilter sample groove before and closing with some spacey whale noises. Now that’s class.

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