First Impressions: The Emergence Of 'Return Of The Ankh'

Monday, March 29, 2010

By now we should know the time line of Erykah Badu's career, and how it all began in 1997 with Badu at the forefront of the bubbling neo-soul movement, and her testament, Baduizm as the soundtrack. Unlike what was rotating at the time, the album took the R&B movement into another lane and gave an alternative to the frosted glitter of sports gear adorned pop divas. Skip ahead to 2008 and the emergence of New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War and the moment where we got to see Erykah extend her creative flow into wider shores.

Now we have the second addition to the New Amerykah tale, Return of the Ankh, and it glides in sonically, easily and plays just as potent as the first due to production by Madlib, James Poyser and 9th Wonder. Ankh is the ying to 4th World War’s yang, and though both albums play on the bygone sounds of the 1970's funk and soul, Ankh is much more understated and more intimate than it's predecessor. 

 Return of the Ankh plays like a look into the creating mind of Erykah Badu, where we are seeing the creative process rather than getting a polished product. It's freely derived, romanticized with music that you're meant to get immersed in, where you're almost wandering through the thickness of the sampling sounds. In a way, you're lead deeper into the singer's nomadic approach to delivering an album, as the album plugs along, with sprawling numbers like the ending three-part opus of "Out of My Mind, Just In Time", which lumps a number of ideas and tempo changes into a ten minute track. It's a bit bloated, but still just as hypnotic once you dive in.

Ghosts of Baduizm also appear through the journey, as heard in the sparkling, "Window Seat" and the 90's R&B strut of J Dilla produced, "Love" which rides on a gritty wa-wa guitar, two songs that feel like old friends right off the bat.

 Amid some steady consistency there are some surprises. The short and sweet symphony of "Agitation" stumbles in with the snatch n' grab pound of ivory keys and Fender Rhodes and it is absolutely riveting in its 70's fusion glory. Sadly, it only clocks in at less than two minutes. And "Incense" continues to drift with the inclusion of a soothing harp.

Badu also channels soul maven, Chaka Khan in three of my favorite slices off of here. "Umm Hmm"and it's heavy sampling technique, has Badu doing similar vocal techniques of Khan, even when surrounded by heavy sampling.

Same can be said about the infectious "Turn Me Away (Get Munny)" and "Gone Baby, Don't Be Long", which rests in plucking laid- back groove, that recalls the lazy afternoon notes of funk-jazz. 

 Though she may not always be the first person to execute a stylistic sound or ideal, it's all in the way Badu builds on an idea, molding and improving it to make it her own, and it is evident here on Return of the Ankh. Badu goes back to the formula of what she has done prior and builds on it, making an album that seems familiar, but does indeed evolve and on here she has pretty much come full circle with her art. She is confident, poised, a bit eccentric (what artist isn't?) and has made a record, while not as far out daring as 4th World War, but one that is just as divine and listenable.

Rating: 9.7/10
Release Date: March 30, 2010
Learn: Erykah Badu Official Site
Follow: Erykah Badu Twitter

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