With New Amerykah Part Two: The Return of the Ankh, Erykah Badu has secured her status as the bonafide Afro-Hippie of the neo-soul generation. Five albums into the music game, her work is still fresh, and gives listeners an occasional throwback to jazz artists like Miles Davis (who reinvented himself countless times) and Billie Holiday, who created a signature style.
Return of the Ankh differs in cohesion alone from World War 4, part one of her NewAmerykah trilogy. The melodies complement each other; she creates a thread that ties all the songs together. Ever the consummate artist, Badu shows her versatility as a contemporary artist by mixing styles and aesthetics on this album. She gives a nod to Biggie’s Junior Mafia in “Turn Me Away (Get Munny);” she represents her R&B following beautifully in “Umm Hmm;” and she doesn’t skimp on her love for hip-hop in her collaboration with Lil Wayne and Bilal on “Jump Up in the Air and Stay There.” She pays homage to Billie Holiday in the song “Out My Mind (Just in Time).” She sings: “I’m a recovering, undercover over lover/ recovering from a love I can’t get over/ And now my common law lover thinks he wants another.”
Of late, it seems Badu has become a victim of her success. In doing something different, she’s become self-indulgent. She’s stitched a career around a persona that once was shy and is now outsized and rebellious. Recently, we’ve witnessed less of the colorfully wrapped Erykah and more of a new Badu that’s free-loving, who changes wigs with each song, is more costume-conscious, more mutable. It’s not that this is a bad thing, as artists should evolve but the thing is–evolutions are slow changes.
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