But You Caint Use My Phone is a 2015 mixtape collaboration between Ms. Erykah Badu and Zach Witness, recorded in Badu’s home studio in Dallas, TX over the span of two weeks. The pair met after Zach’s remix of “Bag Lady” made it to Erykah, leading to their meeting at an art show and Badu later calling on him to produce her flip of Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” The days that followed became an insular, effortless process of two beings on a frequency in a lineage of southern legend. One song a day, one-take recordings, tuning forks and singing bowls. Together, their flow state connected the classic to the current, giving birth to Trap&B: a blend melding several generations of Black music together, an attempt to reconnect us through the songs that define us.
The mixtape’s origin story feels storybook, yet the natural order of things: Zach - a prodigal son of Dallas, known as White Chocolate - had a SoundCloud ode became the ticket to executive producing the very idol he sampled. And Ms. Badu - a decorated veteran dwelling untouchably in the folds of soul, rock, and rap - parlayed a birthday ode to a close friend into another chapter in a legacy that’s updated and uncompromising. As the world awaited her follow-up, she tuned in to the frequency of now and lobbed an experiment directly to iTunes for the world to partake. The present moves at lightspeed, the future’s in our pockets, and yesterday feels more like the past than ever before. What space remains for the “analog girl in a digital world?” Why call Tyrone when he’s a keystroke away? The telephone motif permeates as a symbol of power throughout: the very instrument that connects us, enabling us to spill and build through wires and frequencies, the phone knows no limits as we know no limits. When machinery becomes the connective tissue of humanity, what have we compromised in how we communicate? What energy will we sacrifice, toxicity we enable, truth we incite?
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Centered in the remix tradition, But You Caint Use My Phone offers more questions through Badu covering across generations, merging the soundtrack of her life with the neverending scroll of ours. She makes the Drake flip talk back, the “Hotline Bling” sample in the backdrop of an extended voicemail sequence like a 20-something from the ‘90s with no time for us to play on her phone. On “Mr. Telephone Man,” the New Edition classic morphs into a melancholic quip, its repetition suggesting a missing link in whomever Badu wants to reach. Joined by André 3000 on “Hello,” the pair extends the Isley Brothers plea for love into a scene of the peril romance can bring by a simple click or answer on the line. While the implications of our phoned-in world offer more terror than before, the stakes feel strikingly similar whether there’s a rotary, an answering machine, or a FaceTime splitscreen.
Within these lines lies the essence of this tape’s grand accomplishment: Badu and Witness articulate a longing nostalgia, an excited present, and an anxious future with a striking simplicity that welcomes every listener for some good convo. Erykah Badu’s intrigued by the rapid vibrations of our Earth; she spends over half-an-hour dabbling in the zeitgeist by treating present-day smashes with a tireless empathy. If the results are any indication, this empathy within remains strikingly absent in our hyperlinked society; we remain obsessed with youth, with grave consequences for all. When elders scowl at youthful cries, and children feel the past is no longer valuable, who wins when we’re all misguided? To the old-school disciples who turn their snouts to an Ankh dabbling in the trap and the timeline, Badu told Gerrick D. Kennedy of the L.A. Times: “People that see it that way really aren't seeing. They are assuming.” This mixtape casts assumptions aside, offering to stitch these generational fissures in the name of a peace we need ever so desperately. It’s the Erykah we deserve, gracefully walking the line into another unknown and leaving a trail for the weary to follow home.