The Queen of Neo-Soul, Erykah Badu, has returned and blessed us with her first project in five years in an attempt to make us relax, learn us a little somethin’ somethin’ and maybe, just maybe get us to put down our cell phones for a while.
But You Caint Use My Phone is an eleven track mixtape consisting of smooth basslines and keys that are textbook examples of the very genre Badu herself has pioneered with tranquil trap drums and psychedelic elements (a couple of songs even melodically use dial tones) to make a sound Badu has dubbed Trap&B.
Badu’s mixtape But You Caint Use My Phone may have developed from a reworking of Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” but she doesn’t stop there. The entire mixtape delves into how phones have changed the way we communicate. Badu’s lyrics cover situations like dealing with the actions of jilted lovers, missed connections, and absent mindedly texting during actual conversations. Badu also expands on the phone motif though the frequent use of refrain, especially on the (two word!) track “Hi”. In the track, Badu repeatedly sings the line “Hello, hello, hey, hello, hello”. Towards the end, Badu “responds” with another take of her singing “Hello” in a fashion that not only harmonizes with the main section, but also mimics what sounds like two people trying to talk to one another on the phone with a shaky connection. It’s the choices like that that couldn’t help me from smirking throughout the whole mixtape.
That leads to another point about this project; Badu is a very witty and humorous person and injects that wit and humor into her music. The atmosphere of the entire project is light and airy despite the deep grooves the low-end provides. The middle section of the “Hotline Bling” reworking, “Cel U Lar Device” is a voice mail from “The Erykah Badu Hotline” and lists options for the caller to follow, which includes everything from wishing Badu a happy Kwanza to leaving a message for the pre-call before the actual call to beg her for free stuff. The track “Dial’Afreaq” starts by giving warning that cell phones disrupt the way bees navigate, only to then switch entirely into an Afrika Bambaataa inspired electro beat and has Badu repping her hometown of Dallas. And in the upbeat reworking of Usher’s “U Don’t Have To Call,” Badu playfully refers to the boy in the song as “squirrel”. While Badu claims to have made the change to keep the rhyme intact from the original song, it nonetheless adds a lighthearted touch and adds more texture to the characters in the song.
While the features on But You Caint Use My Phone may be limited to two people on just three songs, they are interesting to say the absolute least. First is ItsRoutine, an artist from Atlanta that is said to work with Badu and happens to sound… exactly like Drake. Now with But You Caint Use My Phone being based around Hotline Bling, it makes sense to want to have some sense of Drake’s presence on the project, but ItsRoutine is such a dead ringer for Drake in ways that hasn’t caused me as much confusion since Your Old Droog debuted and many assumed him to be Nas. The last song on the mixtape, a reworking of The Isley Brother’s “Hello It’s Me,” features none other than Badu’s ex-lover Andre 3000. The song casts Badu and Andre as two nervous lovers trying to reconnect with one another by phone.
But You Caint Use My Phone is an incredibly solid piece of work by Ms. Badu. By reworking a few songs that mention telephone use over soothing melodies and bringing us the only Andre 3000 verse of 2015, Erykah Badu has put together a concise project that can go toe to toe with most full releases from the same genre, and this is only a mixtape. It’s good to have the queen back.