Erykah Badu has been more or less M.I.A. (the acronym, not the British/Sri Lankan emcee) for the better part of a decade. Since she dropped Worldwide Underground to lukewarm reception in ’03, we devotees have been forced to make do with various meager substitutes for her transcendent psychedelic-soul powers. At one point, she was reportedly working on not one but three comeback albums to be released over the course of 2007…none of which actually materialized. But! The self-proclaimed “analogue girl in a digital world” is now assuring us that she’ll be back for real on Feb. 26, when she’s releasing the aptly titled New Amerykah. And the teasers that have floated up through the ether over the past few days have been enough to drive this fan wild with anticipation.
First, the potential album cover (pictured). Unclear whether this will turn up on the final CD art or not, but I’m loving the image of Erykah as far-out high priestess, all the evils and joys of this crazy world tangled up in her capacious ‘fro. New Amerykah‘s a complicated place: I spy guns, tanks, a flooded New Orleans home, a Masonic eye-pyramid, a syringe, a garish dollar sign, and some oil derricks — all of which are, perhaps, partially counterbalanced by the blooming flowers, spinning turntables, righteous fists, ancient Egyptian ankh, and divine tuning fork scattered among them. And, putting that thicket of geopolitical/spiritual imagery aside for a moment, how badass are those three-finger block-letter rings she’s rocking on each hand?
Of course, image ain’t everything. Good thing a track from the albumalso leaked to the Web this week, so we can judge Erykah’s new sounds —which turn out to be something approaching mind-blowing. “The Healer”(check it out below, or on any number of Google-able blogs) is aslow-winding incantation to the magic of hip-hop. The thick, swirlingbackdrop of bell tones and indecipherable chants comes courtesy of Calisample maestro Madlib, who’s rapidly becoming my bar-none favoriteproducer of the moment. And Erykah knocks the beat straight out of thepark; her spaced-out coo has rarely sounded more hypnotic.
I’m putting this out there right now: Even in its possiblyincomplete leaked form, “The Healer” just shot to the top few slots ofmy embryonic ’08 year-end list. And Iknow for a fact that no less a cultural authority than myman M. Slezak currently has this song on infinite repeat. Look,I’m begging you, just listen to it already! And please, join the chorusof worshipful bliss in the comments — or, if you must, tell us whyon earth you’re not digging this tune.