WORDS

In the first of a new series exploring influential albums through the lens of the influenced, singer, producer and former THEESatisfaction member Sassy Black basks in the glory of Erykah Badu’s Baduizm

Erykah Badu – Baduizm
Kedar Records
Original Release Date:11 February, 1997

A source of inspiration and enlightenment, Erykah Badu has been an essential influence to artists such as Janelle Monae, Solange, Nai Palm of Hiatus Kaiyote and myself among many others. So how do we celebrate this Black Queen who has been bopping to the sound of her own beatbox all her life? How do you celebrate the 20th anniversary of her seminal debut album Baduizm, with its sense of freeness that’s as vast as an open field? You bask in its glory.

Baduizm helped expand soul music, and it bridged the gap between multiple (Black) American genres. The tracklist includes numberous Badu classics, from Bag Lady, to Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long. The music also includes flares of folks with whom Badu has collaborated (D’angelo), divas who are considered to be her peers (Jill Scott) and disciples of her groove (Anderson .Paak, who has worked with Badu-collaborator Shafiq Husayn on many of his projects). The sense of vulnerability on the record is deep. To share stories which incorporate universal belief systems, astrology and wo/man as a decisive, bold creature in such a carefree, playful fashion is powerful. Badu is able to exert the lyrical dexterity of Nikki Giovanni with the confidence of the illest emcee.

I first got into Baduizm as a college student. I’d heard Badu’s music growing up, but I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t comprehend the mature stories she was weaving. It wasn’t until I was 18 and began my journey as a young adult woman, that Badu’s lyricism and situational playfulness hit me in my gut and serenaded my soul. And it wasn’t until I experienced my first heartbreak that I would begin to truly grasp all that was Baduizm.

With songs like On & On and Appletree, Erykah Badu expresses definitive confidence of self and acceptance of what the situation at hand consists of, all the while breaking down her personal process of analysing what is currently taking place. On Otherside of the Game, Badu sings of her understanding and affinity for her partner and their lifestyle, while expressing concern for their well-being of themselves and their unborn child: “Now, I ain’t sayin’ that this life don’t work/ But it’s me and baby that he hurts”. The journey she constructs, with the musical accompaniment of The Roots, plays out like a short film which leaves you wondering where the couple will ultimately end up.

Next Lifetime tackles the age-old subject of monogamy, commitment and thoughts of infidelity. While the theme here is familiar, Badu’s interpretation is soulful and bluesy while being cosmic, proposing the idea of connecting with a romantic interest, although you are involved with someone else, in another lifetime:

“Now what am I supposed to do/ When I want you in my world? How can I want you for myself / When I’m already someones girl? / I guess I’ll see you next lifetime”

Here, Badu suggests that she isn’t afraid of the taboo emotions she feels, and also that she believes in several opportunities to live and fulfil a lifetime. Whether metaphorical or literal, the lyrics of this song speak loudly about the woman behind the words.

If Baduizm doesn’t hit the soul, I don’t know what does. Badu is more than a vocalist, she is an ancient storyteller sent to Earth to provide a universal connection and cosmic perspective to those willing to listen. Within an hour, we are taken on a trip through jazz, soul, blues and funk; a deconstruction of hip-hop for the advanced listener.

Having studied jazz all my life (as a listener and trained vocalist), Badu was my missing link. I was having a hard time connecting jazz music to my experiences, modern sound and finding a way to actually own it. Erica Wright created a uniquely soulful, bluesy and psychedelic sound for herself and ultimately other Black women like her, including myself. She presented a space wherein I could freely express my sentiments without feeling like an outsider or wrong-doer. She expanded my musical community.

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