By Noah Hubbell
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By Tom Murphy
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In today's digital age, albums, as opposed to singles, are seen as veritable anachronisms in many quarters. But Erykah Badu isn't going to give up on the format without a fight.
"Artists work so hard to create these projects," she says. "They're not meant to be 99 cents per track. They're meant to be listened to back to back. That's how I create them."
Granted, Badu's latest recording represents an exception to this rule, albeit an unusual one. Her last studio full-length, the underrated Mama's Gun, hit stores way back in 2000, with an EP, World Wide Underground, following three years later. In the meantime, she was afraid she'd come down with writer's block — but she eventually discovered that "it was just a downloading period. It was just time for me to be still and collect data and wait and breathe and grow. And suddenly, it came pouring out."
So many songs gushed forth, in fact, that Badu decided to present them in two thematic chunks rather than inundating fans with too much material. The recently released New Amerykah, Part One (4th World War), consists primarily of topical, socially conscious compositions as bold and passionate as they are funky and adventurous. "We're in a political year, and this is the most political part of me," she acknowledges. "I don't have any answers. It's just my point of view when I'm standing on an apex, having a paradigm shift every thirty seconds." As for New Amerykah, Part Two (Return of the Ankh), whose release is anticipated later this year, Badu says, "It reminds me a lot about what I felt during Baduizm," her Grammy-winning 1997 breakthrough recording. "It was very natural, the flow. Very loving, very generous. Unselfish." She doesn't know "if the songs sound anything like those, but I definitely know that's the feeling I get."
For Badu, tuning in to these feelings is key. Indeed, the stops on her current New Amerykah/Vortex Tour were chosen in part because they're near natural energy fields. "Energy is as real as telephone signals or television waves," she says. "I wanted to acknowledge that and make myself a part of it. Just borrow a little of your energy for a while and keep doing what I do."
Like, for example, making large-scale musical statements instead of limiting herself to three-minute-long snippets. "I come from a place where Earth, Wind and Fire would make an album, or Joni Mitchell, and I'd listen to the whole thing," she recalls. "My favorite album, Dark Side of the Moon, was meant to be a whole piece. There's no way you can separate that. It all goes together, just like mine."
Visit Backbeat Online for more of our interview with Erykah Badu.