Tag Archives: Erykah Badu

Erykah Badu: ‘Baduizm’ & Remembrances Of A Musical Transition

When Erykah Badu released this album, the soul/R&B/funk genres of music were caught between transition and a holding pattern. All between the era from D’Angelo through TLC onto Jill Scott and Alicia Keys. In the middle of this, there would be Maxwell and Badu here . She did indeed burst onto the scene in 1997 and since then has never looked back. It was apparent that despite the insistence of the 90’s decade hip-hop could not exist as the sole basis for furthering soul and funk music. The zeitgeist of the late 90’s was going to have to provide an alternative to that musical ethic.

It mostly came down to a matter of voids. Lauryn Hill would soon be along to provide one such sound of her own. But there were just too many voids and a future unknown. For her own self, Badu is one of those people who marches to the beat of her own drummer. And that would be a jazz drummer if she had anything to do with it because that was where she came from. Not only that she used her vocal phrasing more like that of a muted horn in the manner of Billie Holiday or Dinah Washington. But also in the fact that the improvised flavor of the chord sequences she used told a similar story.

Taken by itself the music here is another matter. In an era where the singles mentality of popular music (abandoned in the 70’s) was again in full command of the music, Erykah Badu’s debut is an album first and foremost. There are standout individual songs. But her music is something like an aural casserole. You have a lot of ingredients mixed together. But they compliment each other to near perfection and it goes down great taking it in. The song “On & On” is not only a great single moment from this album but gives it a great patter with which to follow.

The rhythms,her vocals,the electric pianos and the askew,somewhat jazz phrased melodies all come together to form something very special. And she just keeps varying on that theme with “Appletree”, “Sometimes”, “Drama” and “Otherside Of The Game”. It’s also helpful that she views the romantic matters she sings about here through a very poetic filter,mixing it all up with a conscious and Afro bohemian point of view. And often this results in some straight up truths on songs such as “Certainly” and “4 Leaf Clover” mix ideas of self awareness and existentialism through her own personal filter.

Her sense of storytelling is also important here. While one of the best and most singular tunes here is a “skit” called “Afro”,which brings her humor and an even more jazzy sound to the mix. Erykah Badu’s music isn’t something that you may fully comprehend the first time you heart it. It’s definitely music that has a flow to it. The sound of it, Badu’s vocals and lyrics-the manner in which they kind of slip along the musical bed rather than dance upon it. It’s like one basic idea expanded upon for 14 separate songs that are…disconnected segments of one whole.

The first time I heard it was in a car trip around dusk and it seemed to fit the mood of that time and type of motion perfectly. She has a quiet sound to her voice. On the other hand she takes very unpredictable turns of phrase with it as well. It wouldn’t be a misstep to see her as something of a jazzy singer more than a contemporary soul/R&B one. There’s also an influence of hip-hop in her approach. But definitely not of the stereotypical variety. And it definitely did fill the void whether it was trying to. It clearly comes from the D’Angelo school to some degree. Also Sly’s There’s A Riot Goin On as well.

On the other hand, the sound of Baduizm is very stripped down . That’s another key factor of it. All good things….don’t last forever. They change. Or in the case of Erykah Badu they become somewhat less significant once they begin to influence other artists. I myself remember once reading in the early 2000’s that at that time, Erykah Badu’s music was too new to have musical impact on up and coming artists of the then new millennium. But in its day, Baduzim was a revelation. And it holds up very well today. That’s a sign she had something special going right from the start!

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Gone Baby,Don’t Be Long” by Erykah Badu

Erykah Abi Wright,better known as Erykah Badu is going to be 45 years old today. One of the major events of the late 1990’s was when her debut album  Baduism debuted. Her songs from this album were all over college radio-bringing her mixture of Afrocentric jazzy funk oriented neo soul into a community where such a thing hadn’t been heard for quite sometime. It would be some years later before I started digging deeper into her albums as a whole. Each of them is like a well made motion picture. Every time ones listens,it’s possible to receive something totally new from the audio experience. That quality has made her one of the more modern artists I’ve enjoyed.

In 2008 Badu launched her first in a series of albums entitled New Amerykah. As of this date,I am unsure if she will be continuing this loose series. But in 2010 she released her second album in the series,which was subtitled Return Of The Ankh.  At the time,I remember far preferring the musical sound of this second album in the series. As a person who spent much of their 20’s listening to jazz/funk/fusion,the fact that Madlib and bassist Thundercat were present on this album probably has a lot to do with that appeal. Still there was one song on the album that leaped out at me from the moment I heard it. It’s called “Gone Baby,Don’t Be Long”.

The song begins with a slow drum rhythm using a heavy percussive trap,after which a two note rhythm guitar inaugurates the song. The entire song is based on this rhythm groove repeating over and over with a soulful,male vocal choir harmony sound. Badu’s chocked,slowly phrased vocal delivery offers a complete melodic counterpoint to the rhythmic body of the song itself. As the song progresses, a sea of different Erykah Badu’s mixing in multiple tracks of her own backup vocals chimes in. And the song grows more and more built around different variations of it’s own chorus-all before it finally all fades out.

It was only this past week did I realize that Madlib,one of my very favorite sample based producers was responsible for this track. He is always seeking out bass/guitar oriented rhythmic lines that are fluid and melodic at the same time.In this case,he sampled the relatively obscure late in the game Paul McCartney and Wings hit “Arrow Through Me” from 1979. The original’s disco friendly reggae/funk vibe is explored here by looping the chorus following it’s bridge as a musical theme for Badu to add her more jazz/funk vocal styling’s into. It’s not only a high water mark for Erykah Badu’s creativity,but for Madlib’s inventive understanding of jazz/funk loops and samples as instrumental elements.

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Filed under 1970's, 2010's, Erykah Badu, jazz funk, Madlib, Neo Soul, Paul McCartney, Sampling, Uncategorized

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 2/28/2015: ‘Worldwide Underground” by Erykah Badu

Erykah Badu

Eryka Badu is always a human being whom I admire and respect,even more so after reading her recent interview for Wax Poetics magazine. She’s insightful,has a good socio-musical understanding and manages to deal with her unique variation on Afrocentrism very well. One of the things I will say about her though is that musically she often has some level of difficulty bringing her ideas into a clear musical focus. Her “neo-funk’ sound always grooves with jazzy rhythmic touches and as much electric piano layering and psychedelic soul musical touches as she can pack into her music. As such the three-four minute pop is not exactly her friend. On this album there’s a concerted effort to remedy that. This album,originally intended as an EP is a ten track album running about ten minutes short of an hour primarily featuring songs of either very short or very long in length.

The overall effect is not so much that of a jam band mentality but more over that of stretching out her broadly chorded and scoped melodies and harmonic effects to their maximum limit. That is exactly what happens on “Bump”,”Back In The Day (Puff)”, and “I Want You”. The overall songs stick within her basic musical framework:spare funk with an MG’s like quality of every instrumental lick counting although it’s loose rather than precise and far far cleaner produced,with puncuated bass synthesizers added for an important measure. The songs also totally split apart by the end,either with a few minutes of free form vocalese or simply slowing the tape down gradually on the songs conclusion. On “The Grind” and “Danger” she brings more hip-hop up front as she brings out that the modern inner city problems of money and the stress that comes with it are as if not more vital today than they were during the period when the music that inspired her was originally being made and the rapping in the songs,by her and others further look to that concept.

Her lyrical focus on general,sometimes non sexual romance (either internally or externally focused) are similarly open ended. The album comes to a very strong conclusion with “Think Twice”, a song in her signature style with fully acknowledges the strong influence of Donald Byrd in her music as well as “Love Of My Life Worldwide”,a more mid length and very well crafted funk song (emphasize song) with a rap provided by Queen Latifah and a very dynamic and inventive bridge. As with just about everything Erykah Badu does musically one does have to expect the unexpected from this album. That is after all part of the essence of who she is as a person and an artist and the lines aren’t as far apart as one might think. Because of the extended runs here she is about to find a little more focus than usual by stretching out the songs so her broad approach doesn’t seem too confined and held back and for the listener and music lover it’s an excellent way to present her artistry.

Originally posted on October 11th,2010

Link to original review here*

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Filed under Donald Byrd, Erykah Badu, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Nu Funk, psychedelic soul, Queen Latifah, Wax Poetics

Anatomy of THE Groove 7/25/2014: “Get Into My Groove” by Incognito

Following the post disco freeze out of most soul and funk music in the early 80’s? It would seem that the British music scene really kept the progression of that level of instrumental and melodic eloquence continuing. It can be heard in funk oriented bands of the new wave era such as Englands Spandau Ballet,Heaven 17,Level 42,Duran Duran and,on the rockier side of it The Clash and former Sex Pistol John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd. There was also a strong multi racial jazz based end of this scene that would emerge with Matt Bianco, which originally featured their very soulful lead singer Basia,Sade and Jean Paul Maunik’s Incognito. After a one off recording in the early 80’s,the band didn’t re-emerge again until the 90’s. During this time Incognito helped pioneer with acid jazz fusion of American jazz/funk and house music. At the very end of the decade in 1999,they released their album ‘No Time Like The Future’-featuring the song that really got me deeply into their music entitled “Get Into My Groove”.

Kicking off with a counting down type snare drum,the song goes into what is basically a contemporary hip-hop/soul drum machine rhythm with some beautifully orchestrated,cinematic soul strings. Shortly after these spirited horn charts kick in,along with two prominant bass lines in a wah wah fueled electric solo and a walking Moog synth bass one. After a brief vocalese scat from Jamiroquai front man Jason Kay,Wonderlove alumni Maysa Leak comes in for the lead vocal. She is talking about someone,a politician maybe, who is willing to preach about the woes of the world while taking no specific actions to correct them-asking “tell me how do you change the world if you haven’t got the nerve”. On the melodically ascending chorus Maysa asks this invidual to come and feel her groove,step into her shoes and that to “get into my mind,you gotta get into my groove”. After a consoling and very jazzy bridge,the song repeats that chorus with variations to the songs conclusion.

On a personal level? I feel that the post Columbine/pre (alleged) Y2K world of 1999,one defined by a great deal of paranoia and lack of hope,was in need of “people music” with a message perhaps more so than any other time in history. In America people such as Erykah Badu were beginning to deliver an Afrofuturist musical vibration of their own. But this combination of a former Stevie Wonder singer,along with a British acid jazz band also featuring backup vocals from…the lead singer of the biggest crossover act of the British acid jazz funk scene in America made a bold statement (to me anyway) that the humanistic message of the funk/jazz spectrum was every bit as alive as the music was. And this was sophistifunk at that. Yes rhythmically it actually did incorporate some of the mechanized hip-hop/soul rhythm. Yet the arrangement-with elegantly produced live strings,horns and bass synthesizers gave it that flavor of a fully formed futurist groove,modeled on the EWF/Roy Ayers musical attitude to lead the way into the new millennium.

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Filed under 1990s, Acid Jazz, Disco, Funk, Hip-Hop, Incognito, Jamiroquai, Maysa, Stevie Wonder

Andre’s Amazon Archive for May 17th,2014: Incognito-‘Amplified Soul’

Amplified Soul

A Celebratory Album For Incognito!

When I first discovered Incognito when my own mother purchased their 1999 album No Time Like the Future album in a budget bin at the now defunct Wild Rufus records on Coastal Maine,who could’ve guessed that by that time there would be a decade or more of catching up to do with them. There was no internet in our household at that time. So all there was to pay attention to was the music. Since then I’ve been able to learn what a journeyman musicians career Bluey has had since he first recorded as Incognito in the early 80’s and reformed the outfit a decade later. I call them that because its never been a totally formalized band. Many members have come in and out over the years. Yet since 1991 they’ve maintained a very consistent schedule of album releases,touring and appearances on other artists records. They represent not only a modern day jazz-funk band,but a similar spirit to the originals in the sense that much of the “acid jazz” genre,which encompasses that ethic,seems to revolve around them in some kind of way. And here we are,its 2014 and Incognito are celebrating 35 years as an entity. And this album represents part of that big celebration.

Normally I’d start such a review discussing the pluses. However,just to get it out of the way “I Couldn’t Love You More”,”Rapture”,”Day Or Night”,”Another Way”,”I See The Sun” and “The Hands Of Time” are not only highly repetitive of one another,but also of the sort of major/minor chorded horn based mid-tempo grooves that seem to comprise the bulk of much of Incognito’s albums since the beginning of the millennium. That being said,they are all wonderfully played and performed. “Hands Up If You Want To Be Loved” mixes it up with a rhythmic lilt and a bit of a slick gospel drenched juke joint type piano. “Hats (Makes Me Wanna Holler)”,with its 60’s era Crusaders/Ramsey Lewis/Young Holt uptempo hand clap-powered gospel soul/funk just cannot help but bring to mind a musical response to Pharrell Williams newly iconic hit Happy. “Silver Shadow” is my favorite song on the album,with its powerfully melodic chorus and glistening,high pitched dyno’d electric piano chords right out of the early 80’s sophistifunk school the band themselves came out of to begin with.

“Day Or Night” has a jazzy neo soul flavor very much in the vein of a Jill Scott or Erykah Badu. “Something ‘Bout July” gets into a Stevie Wonder style Latin soul/funk samba type groove while “Wind Sorceress” again provides that hyper melodic stop/start sophistifunk groove on a more instrumental end of things. “Never Known A Love Like This Before” is one of their always strong disco friendly uptempo dance/funk scorchers “Stop Running Away” is a cinematic type groove with Bluey singing in a captivating (at least to me) choked Curtis Mayfield style falsetto. The title song,presented in two parts,also continues in the cinematic funk vein. This would’ve been a near perfect album in every way since there is an overriding Chitlin’ Circuit style of chunky,gospel drenched funky soul-jazz about some of these songs that showcase a new instrumental direction with Incognito. Not to mention the uptempo Afro-Latin style percussion dance/funk numbers are among their best. Maysa,while an asset,is not present here however this I have no trouble with. The only thing that detracts from this album is something they’ve tended to do a lot: rely too much of minor chorded mid-tempo grooves that sound similar and make the album go on somewhat longer than it may need to. Still that doesn’t take away too much from the fact they are still here. And make it clear they have intentions on innovating their music and perhaps learning from their creative missteps in their bright looking future to come.

Originally Reviewed…Today

*Here is a link to the original review on Amazon.com. Please view and comment on site as well. Thank you!

http://www.amazon.com/review/R1WZCFV6ZK936J/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00J6CGDFO

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Filed under Acid Jazz, Disco, Funk, Incognito, Jazz, Memphis Soul, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Pharrell Willaims, Soul, Stevie Wonder