Erykah Badu: New Ameryka Part Two (Return of the Ankh)
Israeli-born illustrator Emek is one of the talents keeping poster art alive. Described by Henry Rollins as the “thinking man’s poster artist”, Emek continues many of the traditions of 1960′s psychedelia. His work is always hand drawn and heavily layered, mashing the political and personal; the organic and technical.
Yet despite his prolific collaborations with some of music’s biggest names, there’s one artist he was born to work with. “Working with Erykah,” he says “always brings out the best in me… I’ve worked with hundreds of bands, and I have to say that she is pretty unique. What kind of musician would fly an artist halfway across the country just to discuss the ideas of the album cover in person? And then cook them a wonderful vegan meal and play charades with her kids? Erykah, thats who.”
Emek first worked with Badu on 2008′s critically acclaimed New Amerykah Part One (4th World War). Note: read the Sleevage post for that album here. On that cover, Emek focused on the “politics and social conditions in the world today, things that were weighing on her mind.” It was a dark but dynamic image, with Badu sporting knuckle dusters, her trademark afro entangled with the corrupted baubles of contemporary urban life.
When Emek listened to New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), he discovered a new groove-based sound that was “more personal”. The resulting cover art retains the political symbolism – keen eyes will notice new references to foreclosed homes and the Tea Party movement – but this time they’ve receded to the background. We get the feeling that a confident and all-conquering Badu has transcended them.
“You built a wall 20 feet tall / But if I get off my knees / I might recall I’m 20 feet tall”, she sings. Emek states that this lyric “was an inspiration to draw her to be a large face. She is 20 feet tall”. Her armour represents the way she is protected from the “harsh realities of life”, while the “color purple of the tree and the sky represent the 7th chakra”.
In many ways, both Badu and Emek are throwbacks. Badu made her name as a pioneer of neo-soul, and her early output triggered countless Billie Holiday comparisons. While never allowing her sound to stagnate, she’s consistently skated the fine line between batshit-crazy and inspired. Witness the video clip for her 2010 single Window Seat, which sees her stripping naked at the site where President Kennedy was assassinated, before pretending to be shot.
An artist as brave as Badu no doubt needs the armour Emek has painted her. Just as he needs musicians of her calibre to inspire his work. “Both Erykah and I were raised without a TV in our house, we grew up on record cover art”, he says. Let’s hope there are kids out there today being inspired by Badu and Emek.