(Universal Motown Records)
Forget “what color is this dress,” Star Wars: The Force Awakens and “Netflix and chill”: 2015 is the year of “Hotline Bling.” Drake’s monster hit has spurred dozens of eclectic remixes (Florence + the Machine, Sufjan Stevens, Sam Smith/Disclosure and several others have given the tune their own unique spins) and hundreds of memes. (The Wii Tennis meme is our favorite, by far.)
So it shouldn’t be alarming that R&B’s queen of quirkiness, Erykah Badu, has released an entire “mixtape” that not only revolves around Drake’s reminiscent tune, but pushes the envelope by examining just how those handheld computers impact modern relationships. Over the course of 11 tracks, she gives us strong covers (she gives Usher’s “U Don’t Have to Call” some jazzy flair and teams-up with André 3000 for a silky smooth cover of The Isley Brothers’ “Hello It’s Me”) and original compositions that are stronger still. In “Phone Down,” Badu craves for the attention of her lover over eerie, atmospheric trap, while “What’s Yo Phone Number” features a trade-off of sympathetic verses from Badu and rapper ItsRoutine (who—surprise!—sounds exactly like Drake).
The latter track abruptly transitions into a DJ Screw tribute, which perfectly exposes the mixtape’s Achilles’ heel: many songs seem fragmented; unfinished. “Dial’Afreaq” is a jumbled mess of vocal samples and beeps layered above an Afrika Bambaataa-esque beat, and songs such as “Caint Use My Phone” and “I’ll Call You Back” play like extended, glorified interludes. Still, Badu presents a refreshing take on just what a mixtape could be at a time when the line between mixtapes and albums is blurred. ★★★✩✩