Redefining a genre must be heavy on the brain. That is the only plausible explanation for such a void left between studio releases for Erykah Badu. After five years, the unconventional nu soul goddess sought to make her grand return via the ambitious two part opus entitled New Amerykah, a utopia constructed by both segments of her brain; one, composed of socio-political themes concerning the outside world and the other, of her feelings concerning the sensitivity of affection and romance. A companion piece to The 4th World War, Return Of The Ankh strays from the political tones established on its predecessor and revisits her immaculate 1997 debut (Baduizm) and the delicate forms of intimacy it illustrated.
Produced by 9th Wonder, the jazzy undertones of “20 Feet Tall” pick up where Part One‘s “Honey” culminated, altering the tone of that album while shifting to a new radio frequency and providing a taste of what was to come on Ankh. The piano-driven “Window Seat” oozes Badu’s distinctive vulnerability and acts as the official single from the project. Erykah Badu is immersed in her love and constant pursuit of commerce on “Turn Me Away (Get Money)”, an absolute gem that contains an interpolation of the familiar “You Can’t Turn Me Away” by Sylvia Striplin. After paying tribute to the late J Dilla on Part One (“Telephone”), Erykah Badu revisits some of his funky production for “Love” where her harmonies echo the fine line between fear and love, reflecting on a lover she thought to be the superman she had always fantasized about.
“Fall In Love (“Your Funeral”) issues another glimpse within Badu’s emotional state, providing fair warning to buyers (also paying tribute to the late Notorious B.I.G.) while portraying the danger in falling in love with the controlling neo-soul seductress. Part Two provides the New Amerykah saga with a crowning conclusion in the epic three-part siege “Out My Mind, Just In Time”, a melancholy ballad that explores the fragile mindstate and insecurities that can intoxicate a lovestruck woman, a “recovering undercover over-lover” as Erykah Badu describes it. As the ten minute piece forges along, Erykah endures constant breaks with reality, first into a state of madness before eventually arriving into a state of acceptance in the closing portion.
While not a complete carbon copy of Baduizm, the organic sounds of Return Of The Ankh recapture the emotional state Erykah Badu echoed on her timeless 1997 masterpiece albeit with slightly futuristic soundscapes. Utilizing (nearly) the same stable of producers for both pieces, the vision of both The 4th World War and Return Of The Ankh was a depiction of the two as equal counterparts, neither outweighing the other nor as separate entities. The beautiful album artwork (provided by Emek) is foreboding, depicting Erykah’s liberation from the robotic casing she created as a safeguard and freeing the woman music fell in love with: “a singer with some thing on her head, similar to the turban that I covered up my dreads with (at the time)”.
4.5 spins (out of 5)
Written by Rakeem “Mr. Genius” Johnson