Preview: Erykah Badu at The Anthem
It’s likely when you hear the words “neo-soul” float past you, you’re surprised to have four names appear before you: Jim, James, Paul and Tyrone. However, before you get to calling them and bringing them around, you quickly remember that unless they’re coming to get your shit, you definitely cannot use Erykah Badu’s phone.
The ballad of “Tyrone” appearing at even the mention of neo-soul has everything to do with Erykah Badu being the undeniable queen of the genre. Ever since being signed after opening for D’Angelo in her home state of Texas in 1994, she has managed to bolster the mainstream success of neo-soul while bringing political and spiritual gravity to a genre often written off as “easy listening.”
Badu’s first two studio albums, 1997’s “Baduizm” and 2000’s “Mama’s Gun,” exist as the pioneering pieces of black feminist music, as they explore of both the effervescence of black community and spirituality and the suffocating force of misogynoir in a way that remains painfully poignant to this day. Moreover, it is undeniable that unapologetically black and powerfully feminine albums like Solange’s “A Seat at the Table” and SZA’s “Ctrl” could never exist, much less be commercially and critically successful without Badu first crooning in our ear, “I guess I’ll see you next lifetime.”
While it’s been nearly half a decade since Badu’s latest full-length release, 2015’s “But You Caint Use My Phone,” the record remains a unique ode to the original meaning of a mixtape, featuring reworkings of songs by the likes of New Edition, Usher, Drake and even Badu herself. Of course, Badu can’t help but insert her eccentric humor at every opportunity, weaving the hodgepodge of mostly pre-millennial works into a tapestry that wryly critiques the havoc smartphones have wreaked upon our dating lives.
Despite its coherence, the closer “Hello” stands alone as the emotional, sparkling centerpiece of the album. A cover of the Isley Brother’s 1974 track “Hello, It’s Me,” Badu, with the help of Andre 3000, transforms the already tender song into a truly heart-wrenching duet. As the ex-partner and father to Badu’s only son, Andre 3000’s presence alone teases out the subtle heartbreak of the original recording and amplifies it to aching proportions, making the first “hello it’s me, it’s me babe” the two sing together release the most chest-aching sense of romantic melancholy. While technically a cover, it is an Erykah Badu original that cannot be missed.
With a career spanning over twenty years, Badu has created a musically delicate and emotionally substantial brand of neo-soul for an entire generation. Whether it be a first crush singing along sweetly to “On & On” while you rest your head on their chest or the words of “…& On” teaching you how to love yourself for the first time, we certainly can all think of the first time Erykah Badu taught us how beautiful life can be. Whatever the moment, we invite you to relive these memories and make new ones with Miss Badu March 16 at the Anthem.
Preview written by Nick Kent for Capitol Sound DC.