A new album from Erykah Badu is not just a delivery of new music; it’s an entire event. Two years ago, Badu held a listening session in New York at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors for the release of New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War. The session was filled with vegan cuisine, political imagery, and gangs of art, with Badu at the helm of it all in purple with a bob wig and Cazals. The event fit the album – bold and abstract, laced with political undertones and more logic rather than emotion. This year at New York’s Chung King studios (close to the same date as the previous album listening), Erykah Badu held another open session. This time it was intimate, with Badu in a purple sweatshirt and hair tied back, her children close-by, and no bells and whistles other than some vegetarian dishes and a few cushions to sit on. Erykah even cried during this event when it came time to discuss her son, Seven. This fit the direction of her second New Amerykah offering, New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh. Full of emotions and heartfelt introspection, Return of the Ankh is perhaps Badu’s most intimate work to date.
Producers like Madlib and 9th Wonder came through on this project to provide plush production where Erykah did what we always want her to do, which is sing her heart out. Much of Return of the Ankh revolves around love – attempting to find it, attempting to maintain it, attempting to recover from it. The opening track “20 Feet Tall”, a journey into self-love, is the perfect gateway into the mind of the Pisces, where the notion of “20 ft.” carries into the value of self-worth (but if I get off my knees, I might recall, I’m 20 feet tall) and the magnitude of indifference (then you, you built a wall, a 20-foot wall, so I couldn’t see). In fact, numbers play a major role in Badu’s mindset throughout this project, despite its gravitation toward free spirit and lack of calculation. The numbers relation, specifically the Number 3, was more esoteric – even releasing the album on 3/30. In numerology, the Number 3 represents creation, so Badu was spot-on and maintained that throughout Ankh. Songs like “Window Seat”, “Incense”, and “Fall In Love (Your Funeral)” are smooth and subtle in both lyric and sound, while “Agitation” and “Love” make beat-heavy impressions amidst Badu’s harmonizing. Most of the songs fall somewhere in the middle, creating an intensely solid work. “Turn Me Away (Get Munny) interpolates the Junior M.A.F.I.A classic, but in a way that could only be done by Erykah Badu. The closer “Out My Mind, Just In Time” pulls the entire album together with one opening line: I’m a recovering undercover over lover.
New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh took many turns since its inception – the most publicly being the removal of the Lil Wayne assisted “Jump In the Air (Stay There) after it leaked ironically at one of her listening sessions. This final cut is undoubtedly the best, and Erykah Badu has done it once again.