Erykah Badu

🏷 Neo-soul singer from Dallas, Texas

This is Listen ∞ An email of eclectic music for curious ears. Here is today’s recommendation.

"Didn't Cha Know" by Erykah Badu
🗓 2000

If Erykah Badu’s era-defining debut Baduizm (1997) helped create a new box to put artists in (“neo-soul”), then her follow-up Mama’s Gun (2000) picked that box up, threw it to the floor and stamped all over it, smashing it to smithereens. Created at the end of one century and the beginning of another, it both reflects her past endeavor and forges a new direction for her artistry, allowing others to follow in her wake.

Further context is provided by the community that contributed to its mastery—one of a triptych of towering monuments to the power and creativity of soul and hip hop music (D’Angelo’s Voodoo and Common’s Like Water For Chocolate), it was nurtured and encouraged by the vanguard of a new golden era of black music. With Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, James “J Dilla” Yancey, James Poyser, Roy Hargrove and the engineer Russell Elevado all in attendance in support roles, Badu was able to express herself on a canvas that shifted constantly and beguiled easily.

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The abiding theme of the album is the search for freedom—freedom to love, freedom to pursue pleasure, freedom to love oneself and freedom from pain.

Freedom from having to know the answers permeates on “Didn’t Cha Know” alongside Badu’s customary honesty. To the accompaniment of a sumptuous bassline and a reassuring rimshot clack, she sings: “Trying to decide / Which way to go / Think I took a wrong turn up there somewhere.”

In addition to being honest enough to admit to mistakes, she may be momentarily lost but is ultimately happy for the journey, seeing happiness as the road, rather than the destination.

📄 Read the whole feature on this album’s twentieth anniversary by Patrick Corcoran at Albumism

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