Those who reported Erykah Badu's artistic demise in the years of silence following Mama's Gun (2000) are forgiven — Badu herself had openly wondered if she was finished with the soul game. A debut like Baduizm, which burned up the pop and R&B charts in 1997, can do that to a recording artist. She also had new motherhood to contend with (note to A&R reps of the future: OutKast's André 3000 is the father) — and the 2003 release of Worldwide Underground, a collaborative EP recorded with a production team dubbed Freakquency, did little to quell rumors that Badu might hang up the headdress.
All of which made 2008's epic New AmErykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War hit longtime fans less like a mere comeback and more like a full-blown, phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes resurrection. Working with a busload of hip-hop talents, including producers Madlib and 9th Wonder (of Madvillain and Little Brother fame, respectively), Badu reprises her twin signatures — fat-bottomed beats and a voice that's half syrup, half sneer — and rallies the troops with politically charged theater. Government, religion, drugs, health care, prison reform, war, Hurricane Katrina — each gets a prick from the singer's sharp pen.
But Badu can still do smooth, as lead single "Honey," a sequel of sorts to early tourmate D'Angelo's 1995 seduction "Brown Sugar," shows: "Can you stick your pinky finger in my tea?" she coos over sparkly synths and rubber-band bass. And for anyone wondering where psychedelic rock art has been hiding all these years, the answer is Badu's MySpace page (www.myspace.com/erykahbadu), home to some of the most sensational, mind-bending show posters since the clock struck '80.
5:45 p.m. Sat., April 25
Congo Square Stage
Honey - Erykah Badu