Erykah Badu – But You Caint Use My Phone (2015)

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Technically it’s not an album, it’s a ‘mixtape’, and it draws plenty inspiration from her latest muse the superstar rapper Drake. But anything the so-called Neo-Soul Queen Erykah Badu has generated of late has been far more interesting than what Prince has produced in his current, attention-grabbing flurry of activity, and after her own, half-decade of relative quiet, it’s time to give her a little attention, too.

But You Caint Use My Phone is the first we’ve heard from her Badu-ness since her wallop-packed one-two punch of her two-part New Amerykah series. As Phone represents Badu’s first music conceived and recorded in her forties, one might look for greater maturity and mellowness; the maturity had already existed and the mellowness, thankfully, has yet to arrive. The severely experimental bent — even if some of it might be Drake’s experiments — remains.

“Caint Use My Phone (Suite)” which really isn’t a suite, but it steals the vamp from Badu’s early single “Tyrone” that emerges from dial tones played to it and she is singing of…well the title makes that clear.

Both of those things about the first track announce what this mixtape has in store for us. It’s themed on the telephone, and the ideas for a lot the melodies (and some of the lyrics) are borrowed and recast into Badu’s strange and strangely alluring mix of old-school soul, newer school hip-hop and avant-garde RnB. The soul-jazz textures gurgling underneath the faux-reggae groove of “Cel U Lar Device” eventually bubble up to the fore in a wonderfully uplifting way, like clouds breaking. Badu then tries her seductive plea skillz on the synth chill “Phone Down,” attempting to peel her guy away from the grid.

Reconstructions of old, phone-themed hits serve as fodder for Badu, such as The New Edition’s “Mr. Telephone Man”, continuing with a brief revisit of Badu’s own Questlove-penned “Telephone,” followed by Egyptian Lover’s “Dial-A-Freak” (“Dial’Afreaq”) and Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me” by way of the Isley Brothers.

Put together in less than two weeks, and yet it doesn’t feel necessarily rushed. But it does have that urgency and a tight, time-tested theme to pull together all of Erykah Badu’s disparate ideas. Whether or not But You Caint Use My Phone was meant to be a placeholder until a ‘real’ album is ready, her relentless thirst to push the edge makes it no small deal regardless.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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