Classics: Erykah Badu – Cell U Lar Device (Control Freaq/Motown)
What and how the hell would a big majority of us would do nowadays without a Cell U Lar device?!? I even come to wonder how we’ve managed to be decently living without a Cell U Lar device before its first appearance, back by the end of the eighties…
The second half of 2015 saw us blessed with the return of Erykah Badu after a 5 year hiatus. A period which unfortunately never saw, as initially planned, the release of the Part 3 of her ‘New Amerykah’ albums in the series. A series comprising ‘Part One (4th World War)’ back in 2008. Then ‘Part Two (Return of the Ankh)’ 2 years after… This part 3 comin’ up under the form of a mixtape – ‘But You Caint Use My Phone’ – which she recorded in less than 2 weeks with producer Zack Witness in Dallas, TX.
It all started from a rewrite of Canadian rapper Drake‘s single ‘Hotline Bling’. A cut built on a sample of Timmy Thomas‘s classic ‘Why Can’t We Live Together’, released by the end of last July that Badu posted on Soundcloud. But also a cut which she, no surprisingly, took into a quite different and also more experimental direction. This with the help of her son – Seven Benjamin – who co-wrote the lyrics. The whole mixtape focusing on the themes of communication. Hence the title of this gem (‘Cell U Lar Device’). Most likely via phones, with lyrics dealing around ideas of “missed connections, call waiting and answering machines..”, as Badu explained.
Download from iTunes.
A native of Dallas, TX, Erykah Badu started performing (singin’ and dancin’) at the age of 4. At the Dallas Theater Center and The Black Academy of Arts and Letters. This under the guidance of both her gomother and her uncle, Curtis King, the founder of the TBAAL.
Ten years after, she could be found freestyling for a local radio along with Roy Hargrove. Then, upon graduating from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, she went on to study theater at Grambling State University, a historically Black university.
In order to be able to focus on music full-time, she left the university before graduating back in 1993. Eventually jumpin’ on various little jobs to support herself. She eventually recorded a 19-song demo – ‘Country Cousins’ – which met the attention of Kedar Massenburg. With the latter getting her to sign a record deal with Universal. But also to record a duet with D’Angelo by the likes of ‘Your Precious Love’. A cut penned by Ashford & Simpson which endly saw the light in 1999 as the ‘Marvin is 60 – A Tribute Album’ on Motown.
Erykah Badu‘s debut single – ‘On & On’ – hit the streets back in January 1996. Thus establishing her as one of the leading artists of the then emerging Neo-Soul. With thanks to her bebut-album ‘ – ‘Baduizm’ – which definitely confirmed the impression the year after. Thus spanning three extra singles by the likes of ‘Next Lifetime’, ‘Otherside Of The Game’, and ‘Apple Tree’. That same year (1997) seeing the release of Badu‘s first live album (‘Live’) in November. Meanwhile 1998 saw her collaborating with Busta Rhymes (‘One’). But also with The Roots (‘You Got Me’). Not to mention Common (‘All Night Long’). This in addition to ‘The Light’ (Remix) the year after.
‘Mama’s Gun’, Erykah Badu‘s second studio album, came to light to critical acclaim in November 2000. Featuring extra goodies such as ‘Bag Lady’, ‘Didn’t Cha Know’ and ‘… & On’. Not to mention the unmissable ‘Green Eyes’. Another three years or so, and its follow-up, ‘Worldwide Underground’, would go for release in September 2003. Itself bringing singles such as ‘Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop)’, ‘Danger’ and ‘Back In The Day (Puff)’.
Receiving her first laptop as a Christmas gift, she soon after ended up using it as a mini recording studio. Thus constructing various backing tracks for songs which led to her ‘New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War)’ album’s primary recording sessions at Electric Lady Studios in New York City.
‘Honey’, its leading single produced by 9th Wonder, landed back in November 2007. It eventually receiving a memorable although unofficial remix treatment by the likes of Glenn Underground. But also resurfaced three years later on Ron Trent‘s Prescription label with some circumstancial rework also worth the check.
Who says ‘New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War)’ suggests the existence of a Part Two, as least in the pipeline. This until the end of March 2010 and its release by the likes of ‘New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)’. It spanned the internet-only promotional single, ‘Jump Up In The Air (Stay There)’. And also ‘Window Seat’, the album’s first official single, whose video caused her a bunch of problems. Not only because shot in the streets of Dallas, TX, without permission from the City’s authorities. But also because it showed her talking her clothes off while walking along a sidewalk until she was nude. A shot suddenly ringing out at the end of the song. With Badu falling to the ground at the site where President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963.
Strangely enough, it would take 5 years to see Erykah Badu delivering the Part 3 of her ‘New Amerykah’ albums in the series. This under the form of a mixtape by the likes of ‘But You Caint Use My Phone’. And on the heels of a rewrite she did of Drake’s single ‘Hotline Bling’, eventually titling it ‘Cell U Lar Device’.
About two months after the release ‘But You Caint Use My Phone, she announced the arrival of a new mixtape by the likes of ‘This $hit Too Easy’. However it never saw the light. Then back in January 2018, Badu mentioned the release of a new mixtape although it remains unreleased to date as well.
She later on explained on Vulture that her 6th album was (slowly) in the making…