Erykah Badu // New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War)
A willful rejection of mainstream values, New Amerykah turns to hip-hop’s most unusual and independent visionaries — including Madlib, Sa-Ra Creative Partners, 9th Wonder — to help create a reflection of its author’s eccentric unconscious. Sometimes the chemical reaction creates a mess, as songs like “Master Teacher” become beleaguered by too many good ideas. On the other hand, “The Healer” and “Soldier” achieve a sound that Badu has spent a career striving towards. Thick and dirty, these works conjure Badu’s Southern heritage while at the same time leaving her plenty of space for her spiritual ruminations. Even through all its otherworldly noises and ritualistic chants, New Amerykah is surprisingly intimate, as if it was created in a secret clubhouse rather than a vast studio. The album’s tumultuous turns eventually give way to the clarity of “Telephone,” a stunning production by drummer Ahmir Thompson and keyboardist James Poyser that begins with a slow, simple groove and ends up ascending in billowing sheets of sound.