Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
In 1997, Erykah Badu smashed the R&B status quo to smithereens. Angst-ridden and face hidden with a head swathed in a wrap and adorned with Afrocentric ankhs and trinkets, she looked nothing like those other slick, urban(e) and trashily fabulous artists of the ‘90s R&B landscape. Surging from the south (Dallas, Texas, to be precise), she brought a more organic, classic soul influenced approach with the merest of nods to the sound of the intervening drum machine driven soul of the ‘80s and ‘90s, while rejecting the prevailing R&B templates in the strongest imaginable way.
It’s easy to think of Baduizm as a laid-back, jazzy affair—a feeling only heightened by the comparisons she drew at the time to the peerless Billie Holiday. But it’s easy to forget how hard this album goes. “Otherside of the Game” is simmering sultry Southern tension. “Certainly” unfurls with a snappily disdainful delivery. The neck-snapping “Sometimes” and the “Pastime Paradise” echoing “Drama” with Ron Carter on bass all reveal the wonders of this revitalized and reinvigorating take on soul music.
In our world but not of it, Badu dropped among us like an intergalactic guru, emotionally vulnerable yet exuding a steely calm. Baduizm went platinum three times over in the US and garnered widespread critical acclaim, launching one of the most intriguing, important and idiosyncratic careers of the last 30 years.