When Erykah Badu released this album, the soul/R&B/funk genres of music were caught between transition and a holding pattern. All between the era from D’Angelo through TLC onto Jill Scott and Alicia Keys. In the middle of this, there would be Maxwell and Badu here . She did indeed burst onto the scene in 1997 and since then has never looked back. It was apparent that despite the insistence of the 90’s decade hip-hop could not exist as the sole basis for furthering soul and funk music. The zeitgeist of the late 90’s was going to have to provide an alternative to that musical ethic.
It mostly came down to a matter of voids. Lauryn Hill would soon be along to provide one such sound of her own. But there were just too many voids and a future unknown. For her own self, Badu is one of those people who marches to the beat of her own drummer. And that would be a jazz drummer if she had anything to do with it because that was where she came from. Not only that she used her vocal phrasing more like that of a muted horn in the manner of Billie Holiday or Dinah Washington. But also in the fact that the improvised flavor of the chord sequences she used told a similar story.
Taken by itself the music here is another matter. In an era where the singles mentality of popular music (abandoned in the 70’s) was again in full command of the music, Erykah Badu’s debut is an album first and foremost. There are standout individual songs. But her music is something like an aural casserole. You have a lot of ingredients mixed together. But they compliment each other to near perfection and it goes down great taking it in. The song “On & On” is not only a great single moment from this album but gives it a great patter with which to follow.
The rhythms,her vocals,the electric pianos and the askew,somewhat jazz phrased melodies all come together to form something very special. And she just keeps varying on that theme with “Appletree”, “Sometimes”, “Drama” and “Otherside Of The Game”. It’s also helpful that she views the romantic matters she sings about here through a very poetic filter,mixing it all up with a conscious and Afro bohemian point of view. And often this results in some straight up truths on songs such as “Certainly” and “4 Leaf Clover” mix ideas of self awareness and existentialism through her own personal filter.
Her sense of storytelling is also important here. While one of the best and most singular tunes here is a “skit” called “Afro”,which brings her humor and an even more jazzy sound to the mix. Erykah Badu’s music isn’t something that you may fully comprehend the first time you heart it. It’s definitely music that has a flow to it. The sound of it, Badu’s vocals and lyrics-the manner in which they kind of slip along the musical bed rather than dance upon it. It’s like one basic idea expanded upon for 14 separate songs that are…disconnected segments of one whole.
The first time I heard it was in a car trip around dusk and it seemed to fit the mood of that time and type of motion perfectly. She has a quiet sound to her voice. On the other hand she takes very unpredictable turns of phrase with it as well. It wouldn’t be a misstep to see her as something of a jazzy singer more than a contemporary soul/R&B one. There’s also an influence of hip-hop in her approach. But definitely not of the stereotypical variety. And it definitely did fill the void whether it was trying to. It clearly comes from the D’Angelo school to some degree. Also Sly’s There’s A Riot Goin On as well.
On the other hand, the sound of Baduizm is very stripped down . That’s another key factor of it. All good things….don’t last forever. They change. Or in the case of Erykah Badu they become somewhat less significant once they begin to influence other artists. I myself remember once reading in the early 2000’s that at that time, Erykah Badu’s music was too new to have musical impact on up and coming artists of the then new millennium. But in its day, Baduzim was a revelation. And it holds up very well today. That’s a sign she had something special going right from the start!