I don’t usually do extensive, track-by-track reviews, but sometimes a record comes along that makes me do something different. Erykah Badu’s You Caint Use My Phone is just such a record.
She calls it a mixtape, and says the whole thing was written and produced in her living room over a couple weeks. And it’s a “concept” album, all about phones. We haven’t heard from her in five years, and instead of dropping a song with incredible lyrics like the last single she left us with, Tyrone (one of the best songs ever by anyone), she gives us an album that’s mostly a few simple lines built around smooth-as-silk hooks and beats, and interrupted periodically by bizarre messages (like the voicemail instructions during Cel U Lar Device) and raps. Sounds crazy, right? But here’s why it’s genius.
CAINT USE MY PHONE (SUITE)
“You can call me but you caint use my phone.” That’s really the whole song. Don’t ask to borrow Erykah’s phone. It’s funny, sure, and it’s got a bit of an edge: Stop asking me for shit that’s mine. But the music is so easy and smooth you forget she’s setting a boundary. And just when you think she’s done chanting and the music fades away, she takes a sharp breath and reminds you again. You caint use my phone. It’s almost like she gave us the chance to explain our side of it, then came back in and told us she meant what she said. Oh, and remember how her last hit was Tyrone? Listen carefully. Because this is the same music. Wild.
Then it’s just her saying hello, hey, hello. Over and over. For 35 seconds. It’s scat. There could have been lyrics here, but instead of put in all that work she just feels the beat and greets us. When I see a short cut like this, I usually assume it’s filler and I often delete it. But this one is sweet and beautiful.
CEL U LAR DEVICE
Now we’re ready for the main event, the song that the entire album is built around: A very loose cover of Drake’s Hotline Bling. I don’t care for Drake. I don’t like that song. But wow do I love this.
Remember how I said the music was sexy? Now we know why. “I can make you put your phone down, and show me attention.” This is a strong woman looking for love. She won’t take no for an answer, but she will make it worth your while. It’s also worth mentioning at this point in this article that Zac Witness, aka White Chocolate, produced this thing. I would love to know how much was him and how much was Erykah, because the production on this record is extraordinary.
U USE TO CALL ME
And Badu’s muse finally appears—Drake is here, with an extended set of bars.
U DON’T HAVE TO CALL
I don’t know who “Squirrel” is, but this is the first song on the album that feels playful—bringing in a little George Clinton bop and the same kind of cosmic space freaking Clinton used to give us. It’s a good way to break up the record as we head into the second half.
MEDLEY: What’s Yo Phone Number / Telephone (Ghost of Screw Mix)
Back to the hipsway. Lots of vocal improv here, and themes we’ve heard before return. We don’t get too many rap concept albums these days. This is Badu letting you know she’s got a plan here, as she seems to channel Missy Elliot and bring the funk. Along with lyrics by newcomer rapper ItsRoutine.
Now we get a social message about how cell phones are killing bees(!?) into a flute-driven, techno sound collage.
I’LL CALL U BACK
A busy tone, a gentle keyboard thread, and some proper lyrics from Erykah. Just a sweet, short song. It’s recentering us after the weird and wildnesss of the prior two tunes. Bringing us back for the big finale.
Andre 3000 reuinites with Badu on the album’s most sincere track. Plus we get to hear Andre rap like he hasn’t in many years. He’s clearly feeling it. And so is she. They’re working out relationship issues we’ve heard about before in their music and public lives, but it feels like now they’ve come to a new understanding.
Productionwise, the song incorporates Todd Rundgren’s, “Hello It’s Me” and inserts the chorus of that song in a most unexpected way, before the ending…Where Andre and Erykah end singing, gently in harmony, “Don’t change don’t change squirrel….”
A beautiful, perfect ending to a beautiful, perfect album.
I can’t find official streams, so take what you can get and go buy this on my say-so. It’s incredible.