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Worldwide Underground

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Album Review

The so-called "EP" that will make many Erykah Badu skeptics wonder what's going on is actually 15 minutes longer than What's Going On. Why would any musician want to call a recording of such length — 50 minutes, to be precise — an EP? The fact that Worldwide Underground is being referred to as an EP makes it apparent that it isn't intended to be considered the true follow-up to Mama's Gun. You also find out throughout the course of the disc that the loose, spare arrangements aren't likely to generate a stream of tidy, four-minute Top Ten hits. As easy as the disc is to slide into, it's far and away the least commercial R&B release of the year. Written, produced, and performed by Freakquency — a seemingly ad hoc group consisting of Badu, James Poyser, Rashad "Ringo" Smith, and R.C. Williams — along with a revolving door of guests, the whole thing goes down more like a weekend jam session than an endlessly labored-over, polished project. For the most part, this is a good thing. Both "Bump It" and "I Want You" are over eight minutes in length, leaving plenty of space to establish relaxed atmospheres that are built on uncomplicated rhythms, twinkling keyboards, and vaporous textures. "Back in the Day (Puff)" and "Danger" are the two most single-oriented tracks; the former's essentially a more filled-out version of one of the extended pieces in miniature form, while the latter is the toughest sounding of the whole batch, with punchy, synthetic horn jabs and Badu's most animated vocal. A new version of "Love of My Life" caps off the disc in fine, fun style, with Badu paying tribute to the all-female, old-school trio Sequence, with the help of Angie Stone, Bahamadia, and Queen Latifah. If Worldwide Underground isn't to be taken as seriously as Baduizm and Mama's Gun, so be it; but it only goes to show how apprehensive the powers that be are in allowing their platinum artists to deviate from what's expected.


Born: February 26, 1971 in Dallas, TX

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

She grew up listening to '70s soul and '80s hip-hop, but Erykah Badu drew more comparisons to Billie Holiday upon her breakout in 1997, after the release of her first album, Baduizm. The grooves and production on the album are bass-heavy R&B, but Badu's languorous, occasionally tortured vocals and delicate phrasing immediately removed her from the legion of cookie-cutter female R&B singers. A singer/songwriter responsible for all but one of the songs on Baduizm, she found a number 12 hit with her...
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