20 Albums 20 Years Later

With Two Albums, Erykah Badu's Vision Of Love, Life, And The Flaws Of Each Made Us Think, Feel, And Nod Our Heads

Erykah Badu’s "Baduizm" and "Live" turn 20 this year.

20 Albums 20 Years Later remembers and explores the music that touched us back then and still resonates today. Join A Plus as we take another listen to albums released in 1997 and celebrate their contributions not only to the charts but to our lives.

The world was introduced to a singer through her debut album on February 11, 1997, who would not only change what many thought of a genre at the time, but who would inspire a new generation of youth influenced by her legacy. Baduizm was Erykah Badu's first project and, after her years honing her craft in the arts scene of Dallas, the album would be at the forefront of a new sound of soul influenced by hip-hop, and driven by raw stories about life, love, and the flaws that come with both — helping to create a new artistic space for today's artists such as SZA, Jill Scott, and Solange.

"On & On" continues to be the song that many know, but on Baduizm, it is the right hook that brings you into an album that makes a statement, and serves up some "real" and experimental R&B. For a little under an hour, this two-time Grammy-winning project's boom-bap sound keeps your ears attached with cuts such as "Next Lifetime," "Other Side of the Game," and "Certainly," along with many others.

But while Baduizm was winning over the hearts of new fans, Live truly made Erykah Badu a star. Not only was this album a live recording of her already budding singles, it also had a unique twist in its own right thanks to live instrumentation, supporting vocals, and by putting Erykah's swagger front and center. Baduizm was an experience that made you search for more from this young singer in 1997, but Live delivered it and made you fall in love with her personality, offering flexibility with some of the ways that she could start and end songs, and explain a little more about her lingo, or even do a cover of Roy Ayers or Chaka Khan. However, Live will also be known for the monster single "Tyrone," which would be of cultural significance for the next decade and becoming another tune that added to the mystique and the public's appreciation as the two albums coexisted on the charts.  

“On & On”

Although superstars like Janet Jackson and Puff Daddy were running the Billboard charts, Erykah Badu's "On & On" was a shot in the dark that would brighten at the top with the best. The hit single was originally Badu's first raw demo tape produced by herself and fellow co-writer JaBorn Jamal, but would soon become one of the year's biggest hits after it was made into a radio-quality song.

Inspired by Mary J. Blige's single "Real Love," the beat for "On & On" is simple yet iconic. It starts with eight bass kicks and a click, and the instruments that follow after change the boom-bap beat into a jazzy production with bass that kicks harder than a trap beat. The instruments included in Badu's performance from Live would enhance the jazzy side of "On & On," which included a beat flip into a cool remake of Lil Kim's hit single "Crush On You." However, just like the single itself, the Live remake of "On & On" still includes the bass kick of the original. 

Listeners stay for the song's beat, but fans come back for the knowledge that is being dropped. Erykah's lyrics of being broke, high, and hungry in a world that continues to move on (in spite of her problems) would be a simple conclusion. But "On & On" is more about a search for knowledge, wisdom, and understanding life goes on not only for Erykah, but also for Black people as a whole. 

"We were made in his image so call us by are names / Most intellects do not believe in God / But they fear us just the same."

This is why the chorus includes "My cypher keeps moving like a rolling stone." Even the word "cypher" in this single is as important as the beat itself due to its meaning throughout the song, and during the track "Reprise" on her Live album, she eventually explains the meaning.

“Next Lifetime”

Whether you're in Erykah's position or the person that she's talking to in the beginning of this song, "Next Lifetime" beautifully illustrates the dark picture of "the friend zone." Sure, Erykah loves the person she's friends with in the song, and she shows it through each verse by telling him the feelings she has. However, those words of love soon turn into words of a harsh reality: she has a boyfriend. The awkward situation reflects a moment that many people have been in before, creating a connection that could be relatable on both sides.  

"Your energy feels so damn good to me

It picks me up don't wanna come down

You got me spinning all around

Yeah

You need to know

I've got somebody

You're beautiful"

But still it ain't that type of party now"

Although the song doesn't have a beat as hard-hitting as "On & On," the production behind "Next Lifetime" adds to the cohesiveness of Baduizm's sound, projecting the neo-soul vibes that (at the time) were very new to the music industry. However, the lyrics in the song mean much more than the slowed instrumental underneath them, which makes "Next Lifetime" a song worth further listening. "Next Lifetime" topped the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart, as well as peaked at No. 3 on the Hot R&B Singles chart. According to Badu's interview with Billboard earlier this year, she chose the beat off a tape given to her by the eventual producer of the song, Tone the Backbone, and the song itself was written while she was still attending Grambling State University before dropping out to pursue music.

“Tyrone”

If there's any name you wouldn't want to be associated with at an Erykah Badu concert, Tyrone is the one you'd maneuver around with a 10-foot pole, especially in 1997 after Live dropped. According to Badu, "Tyrone" was originally made when the singer and her band were playing around at a performance in London, but Live's rendition recorded for radio play has become one of her most popular singles.

A lot of the songs off of Baduizm showcase love through several forms, but "Tyrone" highlighted the frustration and pettiness of a woman when she's fed up with her man's nonsense.

"I'm gettin' tired of your shit

You don't never buy me nothin'

See every time you come around

You gotta bring Jim, James, Paul, and Tyrone

See why can't we be by ourselves, sometimes

See I've been having this on my mind for a long time

I just want it to be you and me

Like it used to be, baby

But ya don't know how to act

So matter of fact

I think ya better call Tyrone (call him)

And tell him come on, help you get your shit"

From the first verse, it's very obvious that "Tyrone" is a song that empowers women more than anyone else. Badu's scathing lyrics on the track capture the souls of her audience in Live and reinforce the thoughts of many ladies who were (or are now) dating the type of dude. "Tyrone" is a hilarious song that is mainly for the ladies, but could also serve as a "what not to do" for their partners. Though it wasn't a Billboard Hot 100 dominator like Erykah's other tracks off Baduizm, it is a gem that many fans go back to Live for.

“Other Side of the Game”

There are three reasons why "Other Side of the Game" single is imperative to Baduizm's creation.

First, it was one of the first songs to bring up a situation rarely dealt with in mainstream music. Badu's single told the story of a wife struggling to cope with the occupation of her husband, which is left to the listener to figure out but is obviously illegal. Although she loves her husband (who is helping her and their expected child survive), she can't seem to escape the lifestyle that comes with the relationship. Although we've heard similar songs on this topic, "Other Side of the Game" was unique because, through its production and simple-yet-clear lyrics, it humanizes a relationship that many would have not even recognize. Though many rappers talk about how their lady holds them down, Erykah Badu was among the first to tell it from a side that doesn't get enough of a voice.

Second, this song was one of the first tracks that Erykah Badu made with legendary Philadelphia band The Roots, which foreshadowed the collaborations to come. Not only did the band support Badu behind her singing on the track, but they also helped write it as well.

Finally, the video for "Other Side of the Game" was the first to show Erykah Badu and Andre 3000 together — a popular relationship that would later grow to fruition as both continued to progress throughout their careers.   

With a number of singles making the Billboard charts, acclaim from fans and critics alike, and a new sound to grow upon, the sky was the limit for Erykah Badu. Baduizm and Live collaboratively set the tone for what she was trying to do as an artist, and created a base for catalog that could be arguably as flawless as the biggest superstars' in music. Every Erykah Badu album (or mixtape) that followed Baduizm and Live managed to be successful in its own right, whether it was a cohesive project with critical acclaim or had a single that was successful on the Billboard charts. Badu's legacy in music would later influence a younger generation of artists who were raised on it, creating infective memories between generations and establishing a connection in a genre that sometimes has a generational gap. Most importantly, Baduizm and Live inspired young Black girls to make music through their own creative space. Erykah Badu cannot be duplicated, but without inspiration and depth from her first two projects, there wouldn't be a space for many of the flourishing artists who are making music now.

Baduizm is available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, and Spotify.

Live is available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, and Spotify.

Cover images: Kedar Records / Universal Records

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