With the exception of a few features here and there Erykah has been silent for the last five years, having last released an album (the spectacular New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh) in 2010. I’m always torn when artists I love take their time with new material. Like all fans I want more, but at the same time I think that artists should make music for themselves. You can tell when things are forced. Experience yields clarity and you can’t rush life. Sometimes inspiration hits quickly and they can put out records every year. Other times artists need room to explore themselves before they explore their music. Erykah has always struck me as the latter. In the way she conducts herself to the music she puts out, she is introspective, committed to putting herself into her art. In that regard she’s earned my patience, a true original. With that in mind, when an artist can make an impact after all the anticipation it’s cause for praise, and that’s just what she’s done here.
Though on the surface it’s simple, with each run through I feel more depth. Focused around the concept of phones, she goes back and forth between original material and reimagined versions of phone centric tracks like Usher’s “U Don’t Have To Call” to Drake’s “Hotline Bling” (which she titled retitled “Cel U Lar Device” and even features Drake on a reprise of the track retitled AGAIN as “U Use to Call Me”). The whole album is straightforward in it’s approach and offers an understated subtleness that makes it easy from start to finish. There’s a jazzy freeness to her music that I’ve always been drawn too and this album is covered in it. Here that jazz is fused with an R&B/ electro-soul style that makes everything oh so smooth. Though she has power in her vocals you wouldn’t know it from this release as she maintains a softness throughout and it fits in perfectly.
She never tries to do too much and, in my opinion, that’s where the album succeeds most. So often, especially after a long absence, artists will come back in a big way, huge singles that may be catchy but don’t fit in with the vision, it just doesn’t feel right. Badu went in the exact opposite direction, not even coming back with a full fledged LP but instead a mixtape, and it’s made a bigger splash than any comeback in recent memory. My favorite tracks are a tie between the Andre 3000 featured closer “Hello” and the electro-fied “Dial’Afreaq” which is instantly in the running as one of my favorite singles of the year. It’s too early to say anything now, but this album is up there with the best of them. I suggest you take a look.