Erykah Badu

Erykah Badu

Silky-voiced songstress Erykah Badu, born Erica Wright, is known for her rich, modern take on soul music and her eccentric sense of style. Her 1997 debut, Baduizm, was one of the landmark documents of neo-soul. Baduizm was a perfect collision of soul's past and present, marrying buttery vocals and live instrumentation to a hip-hop swagger and backbeat. Aided by Badu's tough-love charisma and conversational debut single, "On & On," Baduizm sold 3 million copies and won Badu two out of the four Grammys she was nominated for that year. Baduizm was followed up mere months later by Live, which featured looser live interpretations of Baduizm's tracks interspersed with a few covers and the breakup anthem "Tyrone."

Things got bigger and stranger on 2000's Mama's Gun, a near continuous song cycle that expanded Badu's repertoire to include reggae, rock 'n' roll, and jazzy, Billy Holiday-inspired cabaret. Badu was also a major player in the Soulquarians collective, along with the Roots, D'angelo, Common and J Dilla. Mama's Gun was recorded concurrently with releases by the other artists in the collective, in Jimi Hendrix's legendary Electric Lady Land studio. As such, the albums all shared the same players and overall vibe, and they presented a unified assault on the music industry. Mama's Gun in particular sold over a million copies, and Badu's Dr. Dre sampling remix of the single "Bag Lady" topped the R&B charts.

Badu went through a long period of writer's block after Mama's Gun. She booked the "Frustrated Artist Tour" to try to recharge her creative batteries. Badu eventually entered the studio following the tour, emerging with 2003's Worldwide Underground, an effortless breeze of a record that was less song-based than it was groove-oriented, much like the classic funk Badu absorbed in her youth. Worldwide Underground, a litany of long form jams interspersed with shorter, harder hip-hop numbers, performed well on the charts as well as at award season, winning Badu the third Grammy of her career. Badu took the next few years off from music, opting to spend more time with her children.

Badu returned in a major way in 2008 with New Amerykah Part One, an incendiary sociopolitical screed of an album in the tradition of Sly Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On and Funkadelic's America Eats Its Young. Part One saw Badu cavorting with the new indie hip hop cognoscenti. The album featured beats by Madlib, 9th Wonder and Sa-Ra with guest features from Georgia Anne Muldrow and the Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. New Amerykah Part Two followed in 2010. Part Two avoided politics entirely, dealing primarily with love and its many pitfalls and permutations. The album marked a return to the organic soul of Badu's early career. ~Craig Jenkins

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