I’m gonna get through this if it takes me all of the 2020’s. I started writing about my favorite albums of the 2010’s in August of 2019 thinking I’d be able to finish by 2020. 16 months later here we are. Finally entering the Top 10. Sure, it’s late to be finishing this, but I honestly don’t care. If you take into consideration that the 2010’s technically didn’t finish until December 31, 2020, then I’m not that late. Do the math. The 2020’s technically started a few weeks ago. We didn’t start with the year 0. We started with the year 1. Whatever. Ask Questlove. He brought it up during a recent DJ set. I don’t care what year it is. I just feel like writing about good records, so I’m going to finish this project. How could I spend months writing about albums 11-19, then skip the best ten? The real reason is that I’m kind of struggling to find new writing ideas. I could easily write something about the shit that’s going on in America right now, but I’d rather tackle something lighter. I’m so fucking tired of Trump at this point I don’t need to contribute to the noise. I’m saving that for another project anyway. Let’s listen to some good music and celebrate the first artist to make a second appearance on the list, the legendary Ms. Erykah Badu. In case you missed the first nine and want to go back, here’s the list thus far:
#19: New Amerykah Pt. 2 – Erykah Badu
#18: Lemonade – Beyonce
#17: Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody
#16: Lonerism – Tame Impala
#15: Choose Your Weapon – Hiatus Kaiyote
#14: Ventura – Anderson .Paak
#13: Stone Rollin’ – Raphael Saadiq
#12: We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest
#11: The Electric Lady – Janelle Monae
#10: But You Caint Use My Phone – Erykah Badu
But You Caint Use My Phone brings back vivid memories for me, but probably not what you’d think. Released in late-November 2015, Badu’s telephone-themed mixtape reminds me of foot surgery? And Christmas??? That’s right. On December 1, 2015 I had surgery on my right heel to remove some bone spurs that were causing excruciating tendinitis in my Achilles tendon. In order to remove the spurs they had to cut through my Achilles. This meant I would spend months in a cast rolling around on one of those knee carts. I know to someone who hasn’t had to use one it looks really fun. At least I thought so before it was a necessity. You know what’s not fun? Wheeling down a narrow hallway and remembering I forgot something in the other room, then having to attempt a 180. Also, December in Wisconsin is icy! Plus, I couldn’t drive. Not fun.
I had to spend the first two weeks after my surgery flat on my back with my right foot elevated. No moving around except for bathroom trips. This meant two things for me: 1. Parks and Recreation marathon. 2. Listening to Erykah Badu’s new mixtape on a loop. Usually December is reserved for holiday music, but this was not a normal holiday. I was stuck to my couch and not feeling festive. The super chill vibe of But You Caint Use My Phone matched my mood far better than Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole. I listened to the album so many times that month that I still associate the songs with Christmas, which makes it a weird listen for me in mid-summer…or anytime other than November and December for that matter.
Now allow me one completely unrelated story about my foot surgery if you will: With my Green Bay Packers competing in yet another NFC Championship this weekend it feels relevant. If you’re a football fan you probably remember the Aaron Rodgers to Richard Rodgers Hail Mary “Motown Miracle” game against the Detroit Lions on Thursday Night Football. That game kicked off about 55 hours after my surgery. I spent most of the game by myself on the couch in the living room messed up on painkillers. By the time the game was ending my wife and kids were all in bed and I was alone freaking out. My recollection of the 60 minutes leading up to the unforgettable final play was that the Packers did not play well enough to win, but the Lions – in typical Lions fashion – let them hang around. The Lions led by two points when they got called for a defensive penalty on the final play of the game, giving the Packers one more play from their own 39-yard line to win the game. That’s right. 69 yards to paydirt. Nice. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers dropped back to pass, avoided a pass rusher or two, and launched a ball that would soar approximately 75 yards through the air straight in to the outstretched arms of tight end Richard Rodgers. The Lions did exactly what the Lions always do and defended the play as poorly as a team could without just lying down and quitting. The Packers won and kept their playoff hopes for that season alive. I actually stood up on one foot for the play because I was excited. When Rodgers caught the pass I jumped up in the air off of my one good foot because…again…I was excited. I’m not quite Vince Carter, but I was in the air long enough for my brain to go, “Uh oh. How are you going to land. Remember? You only have one foot.” I attempted to land awkwardly on my left foot, but I also put some weight on my right foot, causing me to scream, and also lose balance and crash down on top of my coffee table before rolling on to the floor, knocking down my cool knee cart in the process. It hurt. Yet, the only thing I could think was, “Damn it, I wish someone had recorded that.” It would’ve been hilarious. I quickly crawled back to the safety of my couch and called my brother to celebrate. None of this has anything to do with Erykah Badu. I just like that story. Now let’s get into this amazing mixtape.
As with all of these albums, this is a difficult call. I’d love to say it’s Erykah’s spin on a popular Drake song with “Cel U Lar Device,” but I have to go another direction. The final track, “Hello” takes the title. “Hello” gives us the opportunity to hear Erykah reunited with Andre 3000. They two have a son together. Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” was Andre’s letter to Erykah’s mother after their son was born. “Hello” picks up with the two of them still trying to figure things out 18 years later. The song is a cover of The Isley Brothers’ remake of Todd Rundgren’s “Hello, It’s Me” with an amazing verse to open the song by Andre. Erykah and Andre are two of the greatest artists of my lifetime, and I’m on board with whatever they do together. This song is beautiful.
This is easy:
You don’t have to callIt’s OK, squirrel‘Cause I will be alright tonight
This lyric comes from Erykah’s cover of one of my favorite Usher hits “U Don’t Have to Call.” Most of the songs on But You Caint Use My Phone are covers, and many of them were originally performed by men. The lyric in the Usher original is, “You don’t have to call. It’s OK, girl.” Instead of changing the gender, Erykah just replaced girl with squirrel. I couldn’t tell you if there’s some kind of special meaning to the word “squirrel.” I think she just chose it because it rhymes and it’s funny. She uses it throughout the album and I enjoy it.
Favorite Slow Jam/Chill Song
This entire mixtape is basically one long chill song. Badu is the master of that. Her albums all have an amazing flow to them with one song melting flawlessly into the next. That makes it difficult for me to single one song out. However, I’m going to go back to her version of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” titled “Cel U Lar Device.” Respect to Drake for making a cool song, but Badu’s version is just better. She’s a better vocalist. Drake’s vocals have an urgency that may be more appropriate considering the lyrical content, but I still prefer Badu’s more chill approach. I definitely spin this track late night on my turntable or in my car. This is not daytime music.
Ring Walk Song
I’m gonna come out of left field on this one and say it’s “Mr. Telephone Man.” Anyone could make a ring walk to something crazy hype like Drowning Pool or GNR. Maybe some angry classic hip hop like “Welcome to the Terrordome” or “Slam.” I prefer the creepy psychological approach of choosing a slow song for a ring walk. Wouldn’t “Mr. Telephone Man” also make for a cool nickname for a fighter? If you walk out to “Mr. Telephone Man” and win the fight, you can say, “We’re sorry, your call has been disconnected,” or something else that would work in an action movie. The possibilites are endless.
Favorite Happy Song
There really isn’t one. This is not that kind of album. I’m not going to bother picking one.
Song I’d Play if I Was DJing
This isn’t really that kind of album, either, but there’s still one fantastic choice. Toward the end of the mixtape you’ll find a song that I have played at multiple basement parties called “Dial’Afreaq.” This is a remake of a 1983’s “Dial-A-Freak” by someone called The Egyptian Lover or Uncle Jamm’s Army. I’m not clear on that. I think The Eqyptian Lover is a member of Uncle Jamm’s Army. It’s confusing. No matter. Badu’s version is infinitely better. It’s not even close. The beat is insanely funky and Badu’s sense of humor shines on this track. Wildly enjoyable.
6th Man Award
I’ll go back to Andre 3000 here. His verse on “Hello” would steal the album if Badu wasn’t so damned good. The man has obviously earned the right to do whatever the hell he wants, but songs like this make me wish he had stayed with hip hop so we could all see where he decided to take it. His flow on this track is like a classic John Coltrane or Ahmad Jamal solo. The rhythm section just needs to keep a steady beat so he can do what he does. Eventually he’ll join the rest of us mortals back on Earth when he’s done. His flow is some otherworldly shit. I wish we could’ve heard more in the last 20 years, but I’m thankful for everything what he gave us.
Yes. I’m more than halfway done. At this pace it’ll take me until mid-2022 to finish, but I hope that won’t be the case. I’m ready to take on #9 right now, in fact. Here’s my tease for #9: I’ve said many times that Erykah Badu is my favorite female vocalist of all-time. So, it’s appropriate that #9 comes from arguably the best male vocalist I’ve ever heard. Back with more soon…hopefully.