It’s hard to believe that Erykah Badu’s debut album is 20 years old. In many ways, it feels like we’ve benefitted from her idiosyncratic style and lyrical insights since time immemorial; yet it also feels like only yesterday that Baduizm made its creator a household name, taking her to No.2 in the US while cruising to the top of the R&B chart.
A confident mix of jazz, soul, R&B and hip-hop, Baduizm was uniquely Erykah: the first offerings from a woman who’d been singing on local radio stations since the age of 14, and who, aged 25, contained a lifetime’s worth of experience in her vocal delivery, drawing comparisons to Billie Holiday while also being praised by the Chicago Tribune for having “an artistic vision as unique and independent” as Prince’s during his mercurial 80s heyday. Receiving the Best R&B Album award at the Grammys (along with Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for Badu’s R&B chart-topping debut single, ‘On & On’), the album also swept up accolades at the American Music Awards and Soul Train Music Awards.
Three years later, Badu followed her debut with an even more expansive album. Furthering her artistic exploration even while looking inward to develop deeply personal lyrics that resonated with her ever-growing fanbase, Badu loaded Mama’s Gun with neo soul classics such as ‘Bag Lady’ and ‘Didn’t Cha Know?’ – cuts that more than earned their place among the era’s finest, and which still sound fresh as ever. Recently hailed by Pitchfork as “a black feminist album that went well beyond documenting tales of heartbreak to address issues greater than the sum of any one relationship”, Mama’s Gun remains a landmark release.
Both albums have now been reissued on double-vinyl – for the first time ever, in the case of Baduizm, whose original LP release trimmed the album to nine tracks in order to fit on a single disc. Fittingly issued as part of Motown/UMe’s Respect The Classics range, the albums are a timely reminder that Badu, whose last release was the But You Caint Use My Phone mixtape of 2015, remains the High Priestess Of Neo Soul.