Erykah Badu aka Moon Girl aka Analogue Girl aka Manuela Maria Mexico aka Sarah Bellam aka Badoula Oblingada aka SHE ILL... turns 50 today.
Anyone who knows me knows I love Badu. She's one of my very favorite artists of ever. I know her catalog like the back of my hand; I try to see her every single time she's in town... basically she's one of a handful of my go-to artists. Her music is grounded and spiritual and funky and earthy and futuristic and present and relatable and inspiring. She's one of the most gifted songwriters around—there aren't many writers who are able to convey feelings the way she does, and make it relatable and honest without being cliche. Anyway, here is my ode to Badu... a list of the times and the songs that helped shape some of my most memorable life experiences.
"Out My Mind" When the love of my life (or so I thought at the time) told me he felt like Donnell Jones on "Where I Wanna Be." Dude literally said that. Translation: he didn't want me any more, but didn't want to be upfront about it, and I was crushed. That can't get out of the bed, cry whenever I think about him, wonder what my life will look like without him because I knew he was my soulmate kinda crushed. If you've ever experienced that kind of heartbreak, then you feel me. If you haven't then, that's super nice for you- hope you never have to. Anyway, I listened to Erykah Badu's "Out My Mind" on repeat during that period. She wails on the song like her soul is collapsing under the weight of her unrequited want, and it's so relatable, so real, so gorgeous. It's still one of my favorite heartache songs of all time.
"I'm a recovering undercover over lover... and now my common law lover thinks he wants another. And I lie for you, I cry for you/And pop for you, and break for you/And hate for you, and I'll hate you too/If you want me to/I pray for you/Crochet for you/Make it from scratch for you/Leave off the latch for you/Go to the store for you, do it some more for you/Do what you want me to, guess I'm a fool for you..."
But by the end of the song, you know what happens? She climbs out of her despair, finds her sense of self, and gets out of her head/mind.
"Yeah, guess it's time to grab my coat/Evolution's time to grow/Ego tryin to block to do'/Might not have nowhere to go/Now I got a leading role/Introducing Super Dope/Starring in her episode/Hello, new world, out, my mind..."
"Green Eyes"- Another gorgeous heartbreak song that again, goes through a full cycle- from jealousy and denial, to yearning, then anger, then acceptance. This gotta be one of the best songs of the past 50 years, no exaggeration.
"Didn't Cha Know" - This is one of my favorite J. Dilla beats of all-time— top 3 for sure, and that's saying a whole lot because Dilla's discography is damn near unmatched. It's one of those songs that you make you remember where you were the first time you heard it, one of those songs that never, ever gets old, and still sounds just as fresh now as it does when it was released. Again, Badu's soul-searching songwriting is on display, "when I stumble off my path, I know my heart will guide me back..." word.
New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)- I'm just gonna talk about this entire album because I feel like it's the sleeper in her catalog. This album is one of those quietly influential albums that folks will come back and talk about in depth in later years. I hear it in Solange's A Seat At the Table and Kendricks' To Pimp A Butterfly, and all over these newbie soul artists with heavy jazz leanings (Ego Ella May, Mereba, Jamila Woods, etc). It was hopeful and angry, eccentric but precise in the production (handled by Madlib, and Shafiq Husayn and Taz Arnold of Sa-Ra) and the album's "get free" theme, which is best laid out on "Soldier," "Master Teacher," "That Hump," "The Cell," and "Telephone." This is one of those albums that hasn't left my rotation in the 13 years since it dropped.
"Fader," "Back In The Day," & "I Want You"- I remember one time I was going for a job interview in Asheville, NC and winding up semi-lost in the mountains as I tried to make my way back to Atlanta. It was getting dark, I was tired after the interview, and I was in the dang mountains. It was not a good look. I prayed, got back on the correct highway, and played the first three songs on this album (which I consider a mixtape more than an entry into her discography) the entire way home, on repeat.
Mama's Gun- One of the greatest albums of the past half-century, for sure. This album is openly influential— the feisty, world-weary, love torn lyricism and free-black girl countenance Badu possessed on that 2000 record has left its mark on modern soul artists who continue to emulate and build on the sound on that album, which was produced during the genius season of the Soulquarian run.
Okay, since this post is rambling, I'm just gonna leave you with 15 of my favorite Badu songs ever in no order and always changing.
1. "Gone Baby, Don't Be Long"
2. "I Want You"
3. "Kiss Me On My Neck"
4. "Orange Moon"
5. "Green Eyes"
6. "Back In The Day"
7. "Out My Mind"
8. "Master Teacher"
10. "Next Life Time"
11. "Other Side of The Game"
14. "Didn't Cha Know"