I can’t get “Window Seat” out of my head. Nor can I separate the song from the image of Erykah Badu walking through Dallas’ Dealey Plaza while disrobing. The song’s appeal, like the video’s, is raw desire: desire for freedom, to love, and to be. That element of desire sums up New Amerykah Part Two, the second part of a trilogy that Badu began in 2008 with New Amerykah Part One (Fourth World War). Part One seemed to capture the political depression of the Bush era. Fourth World War was a civil rights, Black Power baby’s testament to the failure of America’s promise, though to some critics the album itself was a failure.
Return of the Ankh is all about LOVE. And for those who think love is any less political than the issues broached on the first album (poverty, violence, AIDS, drugs, and police brutality), listen closely to the trilogy of love-titled tracks: “Love,” (Badu’s shout-out to the late J Dilla), “You Loving Me,” a comic interlude that chides “You loving me/and I’m fucking your friend,” and “Fall in Love (your funeral),” which warns “You better go back the way you came … you don’t want to fall in love with me.” That warning is too late for most of us. And this album reminds us of all the reasons we fell in love with Badu, like her sense of humor and her jazz-sultry voice with a hip hop sensibility. In the light-hearted “Turn Me Away (Get MuNNY),” Badu “covers” or perhaps “uncovers” Sylvia Striplin’s “You Can’t Turn Me Away,” refit to the gold-digging antics of Junior Mafia’s “Get Money.” Sung in a light airy voice, the song makes fun of the money-hungry girl’s refusal to let go of her lover(‘s money).
The Ankh smoothly combines all the disparate elements of Badu’s previous albums. “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long” takes us back to Baduizm as the singer reluctantly sends her lover off to get his “hustle on” but sweetly begs him “don’t be long.” The 10+ minute final track “Out My Mind, Just in Time” like its equally lengthy predecessor “Green Eyes” from Mama’s Gun starts out like a jazz ballad and then shifts into different tempos and moods that follows the singer’s attempt to get over lost love. “I’m a recovering undercover over-lover/recovering from a love I can’t get over,” Badu delivers in a Billie Holidayesque smoky juke-joint way as she croons of love’s addiction and its cure. Taking us back to the sentiment in her opening song “20 Feet Tall,” “Out My Mind” alludes to rising from the ashes. Perhaps like New Amerykah One, Return of the Ankh is also a sign of the time.