Even before the release of her first record Baduizm in the winter of 1997, Erykah Badu was considered something special. Signed by Kedar Massenburg, who two years prior had a hand in presenting D’Angelo’s groundbreaking Brown Sugar to an appreciative public, Erykah was introduced as the second coming of Billie Holiday.
While that kind of hyperbole might be impossible for even the most seasoned singers to live up to, Badu was ready to tackle the record company–construed comparisons with vigor. In a series of showcases staged for tastemakers and music critics at New York City’s now-defunct Soul Café a few months before the her debut single “On & On” became inescapable, it was obvious Badu sounded nothing like Lady Day.
Yet, watching her on stage, where she was full of sass and soul, showing a personality that was both granola and ghetto, it was apparent that Badu had her own thang going. Coming at a time when “neo-soul” was all the rage, Erykah refused to get caught up in the trick bag of categories. Instead, she was just being as jazzy-rock-hip-hop as she wanted to be.
Unlike other artists of her generation who failed to live up to their early hype, Badu is constantly striving to reinvent herself aurally. On subsequent discs, especially the monumental Mama’s Gun (2000) and Worldwide Underground (2003), Badu has shown that she is not afraid to experiment with various sounds and textures. One minute she might be backstroking in classic breakbeats, the next she’s knee-deep in some brand-outer-space-new funk.
Though a bit kooky in her style, rocking Afro wigs and baldies with the same finesse, in the studio Badu has always been a maverick artist who writes, produces and nurtures music into creation as though it were a baby. Having given birth to her third child Mars Merkaba last February, it would be easy to attribute the lovey-dovey vibe of New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh to the joys of motherhood and partnership with her man, producer/ rapper Jay Electronica.