Twenty Years of Baduizm: A reflection on Erykah Badu’s landmark debut

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Erykah Badu, flanked by Common, RZA and Method Man, during the mixing sessions for Baduizm in Battery Studio NY | via facebook.com/erykahbadu

Twenty years ago, iconic soul singer Erykah Badu released her critically acclaimed debut Baduizm. With the album, the soulful B-girl from Dallas, Texas created a jazzy type of high that manifested truth in light that is still able to grab the attention of her listeners — and will do so again this Saturday, February 11th, at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, twenty years to the day from the album’s original release date.

But besides gaining a worldwide audience for Ms. Badu, the production, lyricism, and creativity of Baduizm influenced not only hip-hop, but music at large, giving artists the ok to step outside of the box.

“Heavier hip hop beats over organic, conscientious soul music.” – John Bush, AllMusic.com

Like all of her albums, the production of Baduizm is infused with a variety of styles and sounds that influenced the songbird / MC. By combining different genres of music, executive producer of Kedar Massenburg classified the album as neo-soul, a genre that acknowledges the influence of hip-hop and other electronic influenced styles. But it’s a term Badu has never been fond of. Two years ago, when asked if she liked the term “neo-soul” during her interview on The Breakfast Club Power 105.1, Badu stated “It doesn’t bother me. I just never wanted to be put in a box, because I don’t have one song that sounds like the other on any album.” Which makes sense after listening to Baduizm.

With the help of producers Robert Bradford, Madukwu Chinwah, JaBorn Jamal, Ike Lee III, Bob Power, Tone the Backbone and Philly’s The Roots, you hear the variety of sounds that have influenced Ms. Badu’s career. It’s impossible to categorize the album when her debut single “On & On” sounds like soul mixed with jazz, but a song like “Afro (Freestyle Skit)” sounds like the funk blended with the blues. The freedom to not be put in a box also gave her freedom as writer, which helped us gain a perspective of life through her third eye.

“I have some food in my bag for you. Not that edible food, the food you eat? No. I have some food for thought. Since knowledge is infinite it has infinitely fell on me.” – Erykah Badu, in the song “Apple Tree”

During her Hot 97 interview Badu described how she was received in the beginning of her career, saying “I think I came at a time where we needed some kind of feminine political statement to be made in America, and some kind of feminine political African statement in America. And people were very grateful for that.”

Baduizm is a groovy soulful perspective of a black woman. Take for instance “Other Side of the Game,” where Badu shows the woman’s views on the drug game, the perspective and paranoia of being in love with someone who commits crime to support his family.

She also showed different points of view on love in “Next Lifetime,” “4 Leaf Clover,” and “No Love” — they all look at the topic but from different angles. While “Next Lifetime” talks about falling for someone new while already in a relationship, “4 Leaf Clover” is about enjoying being single but not opposed to the idea of a relationship, and “No Love,” reflects on the heartaches relationships can bring.

Then there are songs like “Apple Tree,” where Badu sounds like Billie Holiday with the skills of an MC. Lines like “See, I pick my friends like I pick my fruit / My Ganny told me that when I was only a youth” sound like the gems that can only be heard from your mother or grandmother.

Baduizm influenced the culture by showing it was ok to step outside of the box and not place limits on one’s own creativity. This was rewarded by critical and commercial success, and various accolades including two Grammys. By opening this door, music fans were able to receive future projects such as The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Stankonia, St. Elsewhere, The ArchAndroid and To Pimp A Butterfly. Twenty years later, you can still feel the high of Baduizm, which shows how timeless of an album it is.

Erykah Badu celebrates the 20th anniversary of Baduzm at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Saturday, February 11th. Tickets to the all-ages show are $59, more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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