This is something special. Erykah Badu's fourth studio album is as ambitious and insane as its title implies: part state-of-the-nation opus, part eye-opening trawl through the unexplored depths of Badu's brain. She sketches her messages in startling lyrics that veer from oblique poetry to direct, full-force observational commentary, and transmits them in spectacular soul jams patched together with sampled chants and radio static. Girl-group harmonies and ghostly backing vocals jostle for space amid sinuous, late-night melodies (The Healer), swinging doo-wop (The Cell) and an aching seven-minute elegy for the late J Dilla (Telephone); it's as if the voices in Badu's head are squabbling to be let out. Throughout, Badu herself is serene and strong, picking a steady path through the turbulence as if guiding her people. Each listen to New Amerykah brings fresh rewards: it demands to be explored.
CD: Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
Alex Macpherson is a freelance journalist who writes for The Guardian, New Statesman, Metro, Fact and Attitude. He distracts himself by checking tennis results, attending street dance classes and trawling for new music in the name of research