Patience is a necessary virtue for the Erykah Badu fan. Since making her ground-breaking, ankh-rocking debut with 1997’s Baduizm, she has only released four studio albums. And aside from throwing us the occasional commercial bone (like “Window Seat” on her last LP, 2010’s stellar New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh), she gave up a long time ago on dropping the kind of instant pleasures that work on the radio. Her new mixtape – built around her hypnotic remix/cover of Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” here renamed “Cell U Lar Device” – may be initially frustrating to those longing for a real album (and real, full songs), but it’s full of rewards for deep listening.
Taking its title from a line in Badu’s classic Nineties kissoff “Tyrone,” the freeform set plays like one extended suite riffing on phone culture. (Between this, “Hotline Bling” and Adele’s “Hello,” it’s been a big year in music for everyone’s favorite mode of connectivity.) Along the way, the neo-soul priestess ingeniously invokes New Edition’s “Mr. Telephone Man,” Usher’s “U Don’t Have to Call” and the Isley Brothers’ silky version of “Hello It’s Me.” The latter is sumptuously revisited on “Hello,” a baby-maker of a slow jam featuring Badu’s ex André 3000. Another Atlanta rapper, Aubrey Davis (a.k.a. ItsRoutine), appears on “U Use to Call Me” and “What’s Yo Phone Number,” sounding an awful lot like Drake. Now only if Badu would team up with the real Drizzy, that would truly be something worth waiting for.