It’s widely accepted that black women are strong, but seldom, if ever, do black women get to be free. In 1997 with her debut album Baduizm, Erykah Badu courageously taught sistahs how to move in a world sans the oftentimes unrealistic responsibility that comes with being black and woman. Erykah also did this with a sweet yet potent voice from yesteryear. Sounding like a direct heir to Billie Holiday, Ms. Badu, a child of blues, jazz and hip-hop married her influences with a type of sittin-on-the-front-porch-with-yo-granny kind of wisdom to create the genre defining Baduizm, and thus solidifying our everlasting adoration for this analog girl in a digital world.
For Essence magazine’s eighth annual Black Women in Music celebration sponsored by The Lincoln Motor Company , black women from music and entertainment came together to honor and be honored by FatBellyBella. But before we get into the night’s performance think back to 20 years ago. Rhythm and blues had been narrowly defined and our soon-to-be favorite songs were already earning valuable real estate in our hearts. If you were a black girl claiming to be a singer, there was a DNA put in place by record labels you had to follow. Yes, 90s R&B is your mama’s mac & cheese and disputing its power isn’t what’s happening here, but Erykah’s Baduizm could’ve flopped because it didn’t color in the lines, which ironically is why it sky rocketed to No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop albums’ chart.
No other singers told us they were born under water with three dollars and six dimes, or to pick your friends like you pick your fruit. Similar to Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, Erykah also hid her gorgeous face and green eyes on the album cover. Why? because it was about the message and music, not the messenger. (Columbia was livid with Maxwell for the pair of open-toe heels he used as the album art and as a compromise, his face and Samson like crown and glory was featured on the back.)
I was 12 when Baduizm came out and didn’t know any better. I described the weird wooden object that looked like a cross with a rounded top as just that. It was Erykah who schooled me to what an Ankh is, and it would be Erykah who would introduce to me to much more. Ms. Badu taught black women there’s a lot they have to unlearn, while simultaneously giving us the freedom to learn what works for us. For those unwilling to receive that gift, Badu was called “weird.” Her musical goddaughters Solange–who was on hand to introduce E–would beg to differ, and Janelle Monae would most certainly second it.
Ladies how y’all feel? Fellas, y’all alright?
Erykah’s asked her fans this same question for years and just like her, we’ve put on a brave face as we go through it all, the good, the bad, and the in-between times. But when Erykah’s on stage its like a cup of healing hot tea and we drink it in because Erykah is Mama, Auntie and homegirl all in one. With her band of 20 years, Robert Glasper on keys and her one background vocalist she found on YouTube, Seven, Puma and Mars’ mama reminded us why Baduizm is also a genre-bending record. Running through hits like “On & On” “Apple Tree” and “Other Side of The Game.” E also blessed us with a few extras including “…& On” from Mama’s Gun and “Out My Mind, Just In Time” which speaks candidly to what happens when you must make peace with the fact your ex wants her and not you.
I’d cry for you
I’d pop for you
I’d break for you
And hate for you
And I’ll hate you too
If you want me too
Ah, ooh ooh
I’d pray for you
I’d crochet for you
Make it from scratch for you
Leave out the latch for you
Go to the stove for you
Do it some more for you
Do what you want me to
Yes I’m a fool for you
After being awarded by Essence magazine’s Vanessa K. De Luca, Erykah kept her acceptance speech short wishing the audience love and light, but the energy had been exchanged and the mission accomplished. She graced the audience with her talent and in exchange reminded everyone you don’t have to be other–other than yourself–to be considered revolutionary or to create something of equal value. Erykah will always be left of center for those who simply don’t get it. Good! Keep yo ass ova ‘dere then. We don’t wanna share no way!
Congrats to Erykah Badu on 20 years of music.