Erykah Badu is an American R&B singer who achieved commercial success in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Badu had a huge impact on the neo-soul movement that took hold in the early millennium, and is one of the most prominent artists from that movement. She is often deemed “Queen of Neo-Soul,” but she disputes the title, as she doesn’t want to be known for only one specific genre. She chose the surname “Badu” because it is her favorite jazz scat sound, reflecting jazz’s influence on her music.
Most of Erykah Badu’s music exhibits traits of neo-soul, which combines R&B, jazz, hip-hop, funk and soul. It departed from a ’90s contemporary R&B that sounded factory-produced, and often had similarly-themed and shallow lyrics. She has recorded five studio albums, including “Baduizm” (1997), “Mama’s Gun” (2000), “New Amerykah Part One” (2008) and “New Amerykah Part Two” (2010).
Badu’s first three albums were definitely her best, and really captured the spirit of neo-soul. “Baduizm,” her debut album, gained universal acclaim from critics and earned the Grammy award for Best R&B Album in 1998. It’s one of the albums that pushed neo-soul into commercial success. A few of my favorite songs from this album are “4 Leaf Clover,” “Other Side of the Game” and “Appletree.” The song “4 Leaf Clover” is about taking a chance to find the one who’s right for you. “Other Side of the Game” is about a woman whose boyfriend sells drugs for a living, and though his actions temporarily provide money, she worries about his safety and their future financial security. “Appletree” has a duel meaning. The apple tree can either mean the knowledge she injects into her music, or it could also represent the attempt to find and keep loyal and worthy friends. The songs from this album were consistently exceptional. They had a smooth sound, boom bap beats that were reminiscent of hip-hop, and substantial story-telling lyrics.
“Mama’s Gun” was Badu’s second studio album, and was released in 2000. Though slightly less popular than her debut, this album was just as solid, and had stayed true to the neo-soul style. A few of my favorite songs from this album are “My Life,” “Orange Moon” and “Bag Lady.” The song “My Life” embraces the benefits of hard work and not giving up. It’s about a woman who is determined to reach her dreams. The piano is heavily utilized in this song’s beat, and it is a little more upbeat. The song “Orange Moon” concerns a woman symbolized as a moon, and her man (most likely her boyfriend) is symbolized as the sun. The song “Bag Lady” discusses people who dwell on the past for too long, and argues it’s better to live in the now.
“Worldwide Underground” was Badu’s third album, and was released in 2003. This album wasn’t as commercially successful, but still had good music. Two good songs from this album include “Back in the Day” and “Love of my Life (An Ode to Hip Hop).” “Back in the Day” reminisced about better times when she was younger. “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop)” personifies hip-hop as the true man of Badu’s dreams. Both of these songs had a great sound and creative lyrics.
“New Amerykah Part One” was released in 2008, and is my least favorite Badu album, as her music wasn’t quite as smooth. However, in 2010 she came back with “New Amerykah Part Two,” which featured a much smoother and more soulful sound with better lyrics.
Badu is a pioneer of the neo-soul movement. She helped break the mold from a late ‘90s R&B genre that was quickly growing stale with carbon copy beats and shallow lyrics, and created interesting hip-hop influenced beats with meaningful lyrics.