Published Dec 10, 2015Leave it to Erykah Badu to make a busy signal sound beautiful. The innovative neo-soul queen opens her new mixtape, But You Caint Use My Phone, with a symphony of those throbbing beeps, all the while singing the release's title as a refrain. That name is taken from a line in one of her biggest hits, "Tyrone," a song about giving a deadbeat the boot, and not even granting him the use of a landline to a call a friend that can help him pick up his shit.
This time around, Badu uses telecommunications as a running theme to explore numerous other aspects of romance, heartache and frustration. There's her now-famous cover of Drake's ubiquitous "Hotline Bling," which she reinterprets on "Cel U Lar Device," with a hilarious voicemail interlude for the phonies that keep her phone ringing off the hook. On "Phone Down," Badu yearningly sings about the novelty of old fashioned face-to-face communication in this smartphone age.
While those and several other tunes are seductively subdued on a sonic level, latter half track "U Don't Have to Call" makes for a refreshing upswing in tempo, what with its squishy synths and percussion that crackles like static on the line after a long distance dial. Best of all is "Hello," Badu's in-studio reunion with former flame André 3000. Here, her cooing vocals and his indelible lyricism intertwine perfectly, in the same way many of us used to absentmindedly curl the receiver cord around our fingers while calling our biggest crush.
But You Caint Use My Phone is a fantastic collection of songs, and while Badu has dubbed the release a mixtape, it's as strong, cohesive and consistent as any proper soul LP put out in recent memory. Don't think of it as a mixtape, but rather an extensive and heartfelt voicemail to fans who have been longing for the queen of neo-soul to give them a ring. (Motown)