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Erykah Badu: New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)

In 2000, Erykah Badu claimed to be an "analog girl in a digital world," and her disconnection from the tech age has never seemed more pronounced. The full-length album continues its long death rattle, thanks to the age of iTunes and 99-cent single-servings, but Badu apparently didn't get the telegram: New Amerykah is an ambitious prog-soul disc built on the quaint notion that fans will be interested in the whole thing. "Honey," the 9th Wonder-produced single, is a funky, hooky trifle, but it's tacked on as a bonus track. To get dessert, listeners first have to swallow Amerykah's spacey, meandering 10-song cycle. The frayed beats—produced by a who's-who of outré hip-hop (Madlib, Sa-Ra)—bleep, burp, and hum. The lyrics to "The Cell" and "Master Teacher" brim with preachy, pan-spiritual mumbo-jumbo, making some songs feel like they're better for fans than they are to fans. But on repeated listens, the pretense sounds more like earthy sincerity. Badu is vulnerable on the warm, autobiographical "Me" and the elegiac "Telephone," a tribute to the late J Dilla, and her Billie Holiday-lite vocals are as charming as ever. It's a challenging, even frustrating listen, but Amerykah stakes out Badu's place between vinyl crackle and tape hiss among things to be fond of, no matter how outmoded they become.


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