February 3, 2008 / 1:59 AM / in 10 years

Erykah Badu returns to recording with 2-part release

NEW YORK (Billboard) - In her decade-plus career, R&B artist Erykah Badu hasn’t been afraid to wait long periods between projects.

But now Badu is making up for lost time. Five years since her last release, the “Worldwide Underground” EP, she is putting the finishing touches on “Nu AmErykah,” a double album to be released in separate installments.

The first disc, dubbed “4th World War,” arrives February 26 via Universal Motown, while the second, as yet untitled installment is tentatively slated for the summer.

Badu isn’t particularly concerned about whether the extended layoff may have affected her fan base. “I don’t worry about that, but the label mentions that a lot,” she said. “I think if people like music, then they like music.”

To be sure, the Dallas native has still posted impressive sales numbers by focusing solely on the music. Her 1997 debut, “Baduizm,” has sold 2.6 million units in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. A live album released that year shifted another 1.8 million, while the sales total for 2000’s “Mama’s Gun” stands at 1.3 million.

“Worldwide Underground” topped out at 609,000 copies. Badu freely admits that she didn’t promote it. “I just didn’t feel like it,” she said. “I’d just had a new baby and I chose that.”

Since then, she’s made the occasional studio guest appearance (2002’s “Brown Sugar” soundtrack, Zap Mama’s “Bandi Bandi”), but has spent most of her time on the road.

“Artists don’t make any money from recording,” said Badu, who will be back on the road in the United States in May. “The only thing I make money from is touring. I stay on the road. I‘m taking R&B where it’s going.”

Where Badu is going now is “Nu AmErykah.” The album pushes the envelope of contemporary R&B with songs accented by finger cymbals, electronic keys and eerie, high-pitched choruses. The happy first single, “Honey,” this week soared from No. 52 to No. 34 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.

Universal is targeting coffee shops and trendy cinemas in an effort to expand Badu’s artsy niche market. “Honey” is playing before films at national indie theaters across the country, while the psychedelic “Nu AmErykah” cover art is gracing coffee-cup sleeves at an array of outlets.

Universal is also employing the burgeoning USB stick technology for the release. Fans who purchase the album in this format can access exclusive videos and Web content (including a Badu-created photo flipbook) that will be updated monthly.

And in fourth-quarter 2008, Universal hopes to extend Badu’s reach with coffee drinkers by releasing a live album, “Loretta Brown,” exclusively via Starbucks. Details have yet to be confirmed, and knowing Badu, they’ll be decided on her own time.

“I don’t always make the best decisions when it comes to timing between my records,” she said. “I could be seen as a poor decision-maker when it comes to those things. But it sure feels good to me, and that’s the only thing I can really go with.”

Reuters/Billboard

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