World Wide Underground
What was once fresh and novel for Erykah Badu back in 1997 has become sedate and repetitive in 2003. With her new CD, World Wide Underground, Badu uses the grating vibrato voice that sounded so much more fluid and smooth on Baduizm to drone on and on about such topics as faders, tweeters and all the music she loved “back in the day.” What Badu seems to do on a number of songs is not sing, but whine and moan. She also tends to repeat phrases again and again, attempting to sell the end result as musical compositions.
On the track “Danger,” it’s as if Badu realizes that she left something very precious behind on her first recording. The song revisits Baduizm’s well told and lushly produced “Other Side of the Game” (Badu even begins “Danger” with music and lyrics from that song), but the lyrics make it clear that Badu has lost something along the way.
Two pieces that listeners might enjoy, despite Badu’s artistic carelessness, are a remake of Donald Byrd’s “Think Twice” and a remix of “Love of My Life” called “Love of My Life Worldwide.” The talented trumpeter Roy Hargrove does some playful scatting and horn work on “Think Twice,” while Donald Byrd’s vocalist Marie Evans gives it a sensuous, deliberate quality that Badu duplicates well, matching Evans’ raspy delivery almost note for note. Queen Latifah, Angie Stone and Bahamadia support Badu on “Love of My Life Worldwide,” with the high energy and sassiness that makes all three performers so effective. With the remix, Badu and company playfully vocalize riffs from the old school hit “Funk You Up” by the all-female rap trio Sequence.
Badu’s own homemade ink pen drawings on the cover and handwritten lyrics give the listener some clue as to the scattered and slapped together quality of most of World Wide Underground. Hopefully, on her next recording, Badu will treat her material with more attention and delicacy.
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