It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Erykah Badu. But You Caint Use My Phone marks the end of the five year gap between releases, being her first complete collection of new recordings since then. Despite talk of her new album and recordings being done last year, there’s still no word on when it can be expected, but for now it’s safe to say that the But You Caint Use My Phone mixtape will be more than enough to hold us over until then.
The most prominent track on the mixtape is Cel U Lar Device, Badu’s own personal rewrite and remix of Drake’s Hotline Bling. Despite opening with the same instrumental as the original track, it slowly evolves into a psychedelic scape of sound, before closing on a calming R&B arrangement. In multiple ways, it sets the tone for the mixtape perfectly: The theme of phones and communication are recurrent across all of the tracks, and the calming R&B style that the song closes on is the main sound expanded upon in the following tracks—additionally, most of the shorter tracks here feature further samples of Hotline Bling.
The sound of the mixtape was coined by Badu herself as “TRap & B”, which suits the tone perfectly; stuttering trap beats are revisited constantly, but the tracks are never rambunctious, even if they’re sometimes abrasive such as on Dial’Afreaq or the introductory track Caint Use My Phone (Suite). This is definitely a style that suits Badu perfectly, especially on the André 3000 collaboration Hello, which mixes his rapping and their soulful vocals into a serious collaboration that marks the album’s highlight moment. Phone Down is similarly catchy, with its repeated use of the title as the song’s hook and Badu’s altered vocals making a fitting counter to the calm, chugging pace of my phone.
Across the album’s full length tracks, it’s rare to find a less enjoyable moment. While Dial’Afreaq marks the most jarring moment of the collection and Cel U Lar Device only really comes into its own in its final moments, their accompanying tracks are always enjoyable. The calm, funky atmosphere of the mixtape makes it easy and enticing to listen to, and definitely feels like a breath of fresh air within 2015’s musical releases. Even if it’s not a complete album from Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone is an amazingly satisfying package.