Singer/songwriter Erykah Badu's third studio album Worldwide Underground is a collection of songs firmly rooted in soul without being nostalgic, recalling a time when ceilings where higher and folk weren't afraid to let the music play. "I wasn't thinking airplay," says Erykah. "I wasn't thinking singles, I just wanted to groove, and groove for a long time."
Since her 1997, 5x platinum-selling debut, Baduizm, Erykah Badu has been prodigious and determinedly original. Brilliant writer, producer and visionary with pendulum timing, the four-time Grammy winning artist introduced herself as a southern girl with an old soul. Later that year, she gave fans around the world a taste of her dynamic live performances when she released the double-platinum set Erykah Badu Live which contained the run-a-way hit "Tyrone." Her new millennium follow up, the 2x platinum-certified Mama's Gun, was an exciting progression; raw, moody and emotional. Though Erykah considers the sleeper album an "incomplete thought," Mama's Gun was evidence that in the wreckage of contemporary music, there was an artist among us, a woman who was confident but vulnerable.
Badu summarizes Worldwide Underground as "the struggle on a good day." Here, she is surer, braver, directed, focused; a touch lighter, having exorcised her inner bag lady. Relaxed and having fun. This time around Badu is producing the album along with her production team, Freakquency, consisting of long-time collaborator James Poyser, Rashad "Ringo" Smith and RC Williams. The eight-jam EP rides on water in a funk-bottom boat.
The brevity is refreshing.
Worldwide Underground was created out of Erykah's "Frustrated Artist Tour," the worldwide road show said artist went on last year to gain inspiration for the album and tempt the muse. Let her tell it, "I named it that because I was so frustrated because I could not think of anything to write. So finally I decided to go on a tour. Just do clubs.
Go back to the essence of the underground. The people, the fans brought the energy I needed to create 'Worldwide Underground.'"
And so, from all over the world, those who heard the call gathered in the name of support of said frustrated artist who traveled by bus all through the US and across Europe. "I'm on the bus in Germany, in Switzerland, in Amsterdam, Finland and Italy. I'm everywhere on the bus," she recalls. It was on that proverbial road, that Erykah picked up Zap Mama (Marie Daulne), who eventually joined the tour-"as an instrument" Badu emphasizes-and who appears with the blessed Caron Wheeler on Worldwide Underground's "Bump It," a sensual, layered song about turning stuff up, playing your own music loud. The song concludes with a beautiful breakdown of Badu, Daulne, and Wheeler uttering, scatting and speaking in tongues. "Bump It" and the breezy, buzzed "Woo" (cowbells give the song a Go-Go feel) were created onstage and developed after shows on the tour bus during all night jam sessions.
Created by the production team, Freakquency, Worldwide Underground stayed true to Badu's Dallas, Texas, roots. Lots of soul claps, partying and hollarin.' Erykah's life and growing production experience has taught her that the funk has to be the leader. "It's about laying back into the funk and letting the funk lead you," she says.
So she did. On the sublime "Back In The Day" Erykah let Lenny Kravitz lead, fingering a bass almost obscenely. Then there is "Love of My Life Worldwide," a remix of the Grammy-winning song she performed with Common on the Brown Sugar soundtrack. The song also garnered a 2002 BET Video Award for "Video of the Year." Built on the backbone of Sequence's 1979 "Funk You Up," the remix features Angie Stone (the original Angie B of the Sequence trio), Queen Latifah, Bahamadia and Erykah as her hip hop altar ego MC Apples. "Me and my sister used to dance off of that song when we were kids," Erykah reminisces, "Sugar Hill Records! Had the light blue album cover in my book bag. It was something in-between my mother's soul music and this new rap music in the eighties. In-between is where I developed my craft."
There are other revisits. The cinematic lead single "Danger," which Erykah describes as "sophisticated gangsterism," picks up where Baduizm's "Otherside of the Game" left off. But where "Otherside" was lamenting, "Danger" is both revolutionary and critical as it depicts the desperation, love, commitment and destruction of the hustler's woman's life. The song concludes with what can only be considered a wicked primal wail for all souls in the struggle on the streets. Dead Prez appears on the "already living and breathing" "Steady On the Grind,"
which is the undercurrent of WWU, getting your hustle on trying to do what you love. Homefolk Roy Hargrove appears on a remake of Donald Byrd's 1975 "Think Twice" where Hargrove gets to scattin'.
Ultimately, Worldwide Underground is for lovers of music. "When I create music, I think as a fan, as a soul lover, and as a person who uses music as therapy," says Badu. The collaborations on her album are organic, yet deliberately represent a group of musicians that go against the grain.
"I love what I do and I love the camaraderie amongst those artists," she says. "And we choose to stay underground."
Bio courtesy Motown Records
--- from the official Erykah Badu website