But U Caint Use My Phone [Mixtape]
Apple Music/Control Freaq.
It’s been five years between albums – and the new one by Erykah Badu is a mixtape, some covers and rewrites, the phone theme is explored across all 11 tracks and the slight 37-minute running time, the title lifted of course from her nearly-20-year-old single, Tyrone.
On first (and even second) listen you could be disappointed. But if you’re a Badu fan you a) want whatever you can get and b) perhaps knew to expect this; knew that this was based around a rewrite of Drake’s Hotline Bling, the concept growing from there…
The “filler” here, if you need to call it that, is inconsequential, rather than insulting, snippets, bits, bobs…but the good stuff – as relaxed as Badu has been since 2003’s Worldwide Underground – was worth waiting for. The big sell is surely the rewrite/cover of Todd Rundgren/The Isley Brothers’ Hello It’s Me; a duet between Badu and notable ex, Andre 3000 of Outkast.
Boy do they sound good together – as good as ever. And it works as a reminder that Badu is across music. She floats across mostly, but this is no inflexible neo-soul diva, this is a musician, a singer, a magnate, iconoclast; diva in both ways the term is used. This is someone who not only knows what she’s doing but knows – at every step – how to do it. Take an old, old song, obscure – in a sense – and remake it. Remodel it. Reshape it. Make a new song that sounds old-as, either way, it’ll work if Badu wills it.
Elsewhere Erykah hits it right on Cel U Lar Device (“you used to call me on my cellular device”) in a way that Prince keeps trying, but fails. She’s half a generation removed from Prince’s now old-man/odd-man failings; Badu doesn’t have to work hard to be kooky, nor to keep contemporary.
She’s instantly warding off and welcoming the challenge from the likes of Janelle Monae, we knew she was welcoming it by their noted collaboration, but this mixtape reminds us that Badu was doing the Higher Power/Celestial Being shtick long before Monae. She’s also all at once right there inside hip-hop and neo soul and a throwback to the old-fashioned, to the soul singer as conjurer – that’s why it made sense (and – this is a stretch, for it was one of few things that actually made sense) to have her in that role in Blues Brothers 2000.
Mostly Badu sounds very relaxed here. Very, very relaxed. Not so much/just, er, phoning it in, but passively exploring new spaces and reinventing/reshaping/revisiting old ideas in a stopgap project that only means as much as it does because we care so much.
I want more from her. Straight away. But that’s because I want more. Always. From Badu. I’d listen to her sing the, ah, phonebook…
But this has enough happening – in the cracks, spaces – to pique interest, to keep me intrigued, to satiate. I just don’t want another five year gap. Mr. Telephone Man is so chilled it’s basically got a popsicle stick in the end of it. That’s fine for now. But so long as she returns to attack that with some bite things’ll be just great. Worldwide Underground was wonderful. But it sounded even better when we had The New Amerykah Part One to connect with after. That was the last five year gap. And then The New Amerykah Part Two was released just two years later. I wonder if we’ll see The New Amerykah Part Three sometime next year. What a treat that’ll be. Until then there’s this. Good enough for now. Good enough for a while actually…just relax, enjoy the Parade-era Prince-like U Don’t Have To Call, the antidote to Adele’s high drama with Phone Down, the overall relaxed, um, tone.