In recounting the first time I heard Erykah Badu, I wish I could say that “it was a stormy night. You know the kind where the lightning strikes? And I was hanging out with some of my artsy friends.” but unfortunately, that was not the case at all. I was at home in bed recovering from a terrible car accident that totaled my car after broadsiding a telephone pole. My neck felt as if someone had attached a bag of 100 pound bricks to it. I had never been in that much pain in my life. Regardless, I decided that if I was going to be in that room for however long, I needed to start cleaning it up. Somehow I managed to roll my way out of bed to make it towards the television to turn on Video Soul for some background noise.
Erykah Badu was the featured live performance guest on Video Soul that afternoon. Now technically, this isn’t the first time I had seen Erykah Badu. I remember being in a rush and seeing her video for “On and On” and thinking about how clever the Color Purple theme was. Still, I hadn’t quite heard her yet, if you know what I mean. As I watched her perform on Video Soul, I could not get over how mesmerizing she was. First of all, that was the very first time I had ever seen incense burned on BET. She had turned that studio into her living room, weaving stories and melodies through her music and inviting us all into her world of Baduizm. I was converted quickly. In fact, I got up, cut up my favorite fabric and made my very first headwrap that day!
I don’t think we had seen anyone like before her debut album Baduizm, which turns 20 years old this month.Sure her voice is sometimes reminiscent of Billie Holiday, her style can be as daring as Grace Jones and her lyrics can be as honest and socially relevant as Nina Simone. But, she is truly an original. Baduizm catapulted her into the ranks right alongside these consummate artists who used their art to convey messages and tell stories that are heartfelt and relatable to so many of us. Ranging from the what ifs of a love interest (“Next Lifetime”) to the contradictions and complications that can hamper relationships (“Sometimes”), Baduizm would become the first of the many masterpieces in her catalog.
If ever asked why I’ve been a consistent fan of Erykah Badu’s since that first performance I saw on Video Soul, I’d have to say this: There’s something both majestic and yet very familiar about her all at the same time- like an around the way unicorn (what, you don’t have unicorns around your way?). It’s like you “know” her because she’s your auntie in your head who tells you to pull it together (“Bag Lady”) but you couldn’t possibly know her because you have never been to her New Amerykah. She’s celestial and yet down to earth (“Me”). She knows your secrets and sings your tears (“Green Eyes”) and she’s a “Q.U.E.E.N.” in a seven dollar dress (“Cleva”). Most of all, she is a torch bearer in keeping the authenticity and artistry alive and well within Africa n American music. Here’s to twenty years of Baduizm. May the cypher forever keep rolling like a rolling stone.
Check out my absolute favorite Erykah Badu (AKA Lowdown Loretta Brown) songs on this month’s Spotify playlist.