This is part two of a four-part series on Erykah Badu’s massive role in communicating and normalizing Black feminism and Afro-futurism in contemporary discourses. Check out parts one, three, and four.
Erykah Badu set a strong foundation in 1997 with Baduizm and “Tyrone.” Each track introduced listeners to her afro-centric ideology and penchant for empathetic and intellectual lyricism, a rare mix in pop culture. She was able to continue to blossom on her next few albums, Mama’s Gun and Worldwide Underground.
Many of these themes continue on her next album, Mama’s Gun, released in 2000. Specifically, the tracks “… And On,” and “Bag Lady” stick out as crucial for understanding Badu’s philosophy. “… And On” is a continuation from “On & On,” further stretching out the time continuum to make her points about personal relationships and self-care. Many of the points Marlo David made about “On & On” can also be made about “… & On,” as she’s incorporating futuristic imagery and further developing the sung idea: “what good do your words do if they can’t understand you?” This seems to acknowledge her deep thoughts present throughout much of her music. Throughout the track and album, she conjures imagery from the Nation of Gods and Earth, a black nationalist school of thought and movement that sought to portray black men as gods and women as earth. Later on in the album on “Bag Lady,” she sings about emotional baggage: “Bag lady you gone hurt your back, dragging all them bags like that. I guess nobody ever told you all you must hold onto is you.” These lyrics are a soulful and empathetic way of communicating the lived experience of Black folks in the American West. It’s another track acknowledging the trauma that can be caused in intimate relationships, but it maintains that people are better off processing their difficulties and not letting those experiences bog them down.
Her next album, Worldwide Underground, issued formally as an EP despite its full-length status with 10 songs and 51 minutes worth of runtime, fully enmeshed her in hip-hop. While she touched on the genre in past albums, this one was the first where she really committed over the length of a whole album. Songs like “Love of My Life Worldwide,” featuring Queen Latifah and Angie Stone, “The Grind,” which features Black nationalist rap group Dead Prez, show her skills on the mic as well as her dedication to expressing black feminist and afrofuturist ideology. This album gave her much-deserved authenticity and appreciation from the hip-hop realm. At this point, she was already one of the biggest names in music, and she’d been largely embraced by hip-hop. But this album proved that she can rap with the best of them. It speaks to the limiting nature of genre, how black femmes in music are often pinned into R&B/soul categories, when in reality their talents are expansive and boundless. “Love of My Life Worldwide” is a dedication to female rappers around the world, with guest verses from Angie Stone and Queen Latifah. It validates the presence of femmes in hip-hop in an appreciative way, with a fun-loving chorus and strong verses from each featuring artist. “The Grind,” featuring Dead Prez, is a hard-hitting track with more imagery from the Five Percent Nation. It speaks on the wealth gap and the impact of poverty on Black folks, with Dead Prez handling much of the rapping on the record.
With the release of these albums, Erykah Badu was set in stone as a permanent member of neo-soul’s Mount Rushmore. In the next post, we’ll take a look at her two-part series, The New Amerykah, and how it ushered in a new era of Badu’s career.