If you were a black girl during the summer of 1997, three things were of importance of to you: finding someone to grease your scalp while you watched Living Single, rooting for Serena and Venus Williams to become the tennis powerhouses they are today, and listening to Erykah Badu’s debut disc Baduizm. Heck, even if you weren’t a black woman, you were well aware of that classic album. It sold over three million copies, highlighted Badu’s Billie Holiday-esque vocals, and secured her two Grammy awards, but most importantly, it announced her arrival as a force to be reckoned within the music industry. And while her popularity has waned a bit (whose hasn’t after 17 years in the business?), Badu’s legacy can be seen and felt all around us. Read on for 8 reasons why we still adore her.
Ever since Badu rocked her sky-high and colorful head wraps in the music video for lead single “On & On,” it seemed every woman of color was copying this signature look. A look, which was in stark contrast of the bone straight hairstyles the average black woman was wearing thanks to perming their hair. With Badu having major mainstream success while not confirming to societal standards of beauty, she inspired plenty of women to embrace what’s unique about their own appearance or if you were like me, you simply copied what she did until I discovered my own sense of style. Of course, I never looked this chic:
And instead I looked like I was smuggling all the products from aisles seven and eight when I walked out of Costco.
Turning A “Whoopsie” Moment Into An America’s Sweetheart Moment
Speaking of head —get your mind out the gutter!— the hairstyles on Badu’s head have changed more times than bed sheets at a brothel (OK, your mind can be in the gutter for a second). Back to Badu: she’s had dreadlocks, braids, bobs, afros, been bald, etc. Perhaps my favorite of all these looks is the afro wig that Badu sported Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. It’s gigantic, fluffy, and fierce, but most importantly, during her performance, a giant breeze ejects the wig from her head the way James Bond does a villain from his car and. She. Doesn’t. Care. You see, most people’s reaction to their wig flying off their head in public would be:
However, when the wig flew off Badu, she pretty much reacted the way my mom does when I correct her as she mispronounces Jerry Seinfeld’s name for the thousandth time:
as if to say, “Pheebs, if I didn’t turn my vajayjay into an Easy Bake Oven for nine months so you could enter the world, you wouldn’t be here. So I’m going to call him ’Steinfeld.’ Deal with it.” Good point, Moms! Anyway, the point is that long before Jennifer Lawrence was tripping up stairs and endearing herself to millions, the always savvy Badu was rocking through her own “whoopsie” moment to charm audiences and deliver an iconic performance in one of the best music concert films in years. Skip to 2:40 to watch the wig incident…
Foremother of Neo-Soul
Badu has gone on record stating that she’s not a fan of the title “neo-soul” and she has music executive Kedar Massenburg to blame. He coined the phrase in the late 1990s to describe the combination of soul and contemporary R&B that also had dashes of jazz, funk, hip hop, pop, fusion, and African music:
This label happened to come along just as Badu and her peers —including D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill, and Maxwell— were breaking through with a sound that many listeners hadn’t heard before. As a result, not only did all of the aforementioned artists have thriving and successful careers, but they opened the door for plenty of other acts who were able to get record deals despite not neatly fitting into the pop mold.
“Tyrone,” is, hands down, one of the defining break up songs of the ’90s. Sure, there’s Alanis Morrisette’s “You Oughta Know” and No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak,” but neither of them ended up in the Urban Dictionary, which is a honor to someone, somewhere, I think. In all seriousness, this song was released in 1998, off Badu’s Live album and it took on a life of its own. First, it pretty much ruined the lives of all men named Tyrone, who were teased as being the guy who had the clean of the messes of their no-good guy friends.
Second, “Tyrone” became an anthem for women when dealing with lackluster beaus. Finally, it was cheeky and full of life where so many break up songs were dour and tortured. Badu was clearly having fun turning away her lover in this song and got in tons of jokes such as: “Everytime we go somewhere/I gotta reach down in my purse/To pay your way and your homeboys way/And sometimes your cousin’s way.” Good point. If you’re going on a date with your lady and you bring your cousin along AND make her pay for him, your girlfriend deserves to ctrl + alt + del you from her life.
I’ll be the first to admit that while I adore Badu, not all of her fashion choices have been winners. Sometimes her outfits look like if Helene Bonham-Carter had sex with Tim Burton’s hair. Still, for every miss there are tons of hits, which is why Givenchy’s creative director made her the face of the label last year:Her penchant for looking utterly unique, funky, and hip makes her one of a kind and it’s no wonder why people like Givenchy’s creative director Riccardo Tisci and Tom Ford have asked her to model for them.
Badu has influenced countless of artists, but her legacy is most evident in Janelle Monae, who is a love child of Badu and Prince. Monae has taken the groundwork that Badu has laid and added even more funk to it. Bonus? Badu loves Monae’s work so much that she not only did a duet with her, but called Monae one of her besties.
Proving That Musicians Can Be Funny
Badu has always been a jokester (read: lyrics to her hit song “Tyrone”) and was one of the few neo-soul singers who knew how to take her craft seriously without taking herself too seriously. And thankfully, the longer she has been around, the funnier she has gotten. Whether posting a Vine video of her child obsessively singing “Let It Go” or crashing a local news reporter’s segment with an attempted kiss, she has been bringing the LOLz hard lately. So, just when it seemed she couldn’t top herself, she did it, yall! Ms. Badu recently uploaded a 7 minute plus video of her singing for money in Times Square. This clip is notable for three reasons:
1. She clearly spent more time in iMovie making credits (this video has a key grip) and random subtitles (e.g. I-YI-YI- YI…) for this video than in actually singing a recognizable song:
2. Her old lady glasses were clearly inspired by Vicki Lawrence aka Mama from Mama’s Place. #IJustShowedMyAge
3. Her hilarious honesty “I haven’t sold a record in two years/Bitch needs some money” makes us all feel better about the fact that our bank accounts are dustier than an old Sega Genesis controller.
Without further ado, behold Erykah Badu’s pièce de résistance: