Erykah Badu where are you? A Dallas fan’s personal Top 5
It's rare that an artist comes along and totally changes the music scene the way Erykah Badu did in the late 90's. Though Mary J. Blige remains my favorite female artist, her contributions to the Black Music experience are not as significant as those made by Dallas' own E. Badu.
As my college days progressed, female R&B was dominated by groups like SWV, Total, and Xscape while the aforementioned M.J.B. was just beginning to gain her footing as the queen of hip hop soul. Many of the songs when revisited today have suspect vocals and cookie cutter beats but still jam, if for no other reason than taking you back to where you were when the songs were hot.
If there was a precursor to Ms. Badu's brand of "Neo Soul" it would have to be Zhane. The duo's sultry vocals backed by live instruments were unique for the time, and their music still sounds good today.
Enter 1997's Baduizm and its first single On and On. Videos were still a big deal back then, and the image of Badu on screen is still impressed upon my brain: her eyes, her hair, the ways she moved. It was apparent from the start that she was destined for stardom. What wasn't apparent was that someone with so much soul was from (Sunny South) Dallas, Texas.
The CD was outstanding and her stellar studio work was surpassed only by her skills as a live performer. The Booker T. Washington High School alum is a trained dancer and often plays instruments during her concerts. The songs haven't changed much in the last 5 or 6 years, but her interpretation is always fresh.
It's amazing that someone with so much talent and such a loyal following has released so little material. She teases us with singles and collaborations here and there but no albums since 2003's Worldwide Underground. With 10 cuts including an intro, outro, interlude, and remix (Love of My Life) it's hard to really count that one as an album. But Badu fans have to take what we can get.
Here are my 5 favorite Erykah Badu songs to date. Feel free to let me know what you think.
Smooth and soulful, the song evokes memories of the great female jazz vocalists of a bygone era. As in so many of her songs, Ms. Badu does so much with so little; smooth bass line, simple drum beat, and honest lyrics. "Whatcha gonna do when they come for you? Work ain't honest but it pays the bills."
The track actually starts with Other Side of the Game playing in the background and serves as a bit of a companion song. While on OSTG she sounds like a young girl reasoning with her man to get out of the drug game, on Danger she's grown into a woman who's in it knee deep. The music is bumping and vocals are coming at you from all over the place.
One of a number of collaboration projects, Love of My Life -Erykah Badu's Ode to Hip Hop- teams here with rapper Common. Of course the first few times that you hear the song it sounds like a garden variety relationship joint. That's all good, but listening to the song in its true context gives it a whole different feel. And for fans of the genre, many can relate to highs and lows Common and Badu attribute to hip hop.
On and On immediately put Erykah Badu on the map. At the time I compared her music to Arrested Development of Tennessee fame, but her lyrics were more complex. Ms. Badu's star continues to shine while Development flamed out long ago.
"I was born under water, With 3 dollar$ & 6 dimes. Yeah, U may laugh 'Cuz U did not do yo math." On and On along with Baduizm in its entirety gave way to a whole new expression of Black Music.
I was hooked from the moment I heard the familiar (for the older set) crackling sound of a needle placed on an old record followed by "My Eyes are green, cause I eats a lot of vegetables. It don't have nothing to do with your new friend." The first movement, a throwback with only a horn and piano is a playful attempt to hide the pain caused by a lover who has found comfort in someone else.
The lyrics of the second movement are a haunting introspective of insecurity with which many of us can relate. This part is backed by a simple jazz grouping of drums, bass, piano, and the trademark flute that is present throughout her career.
The songs final movement brings the horns back. The naive anxiety of the first two acts are replaced by hopeful desperation. The song conveys the downs and downs of love with barely hint of optimism. Green Eyes is an exceptional example of Badu's musical genius.
Bag Lady (Mama's Gun), Tyrone (Erykah Badu Live), Apple Tree (Baduizm), Bump It (Worldwide Underground), Southern Girl