Erykah Badu is one of the definitive artists of her generation and she’s consistently captured her fans’ interests and attention with albums and songs that showcase a fearlessly creative and endlessly inspired spirit. With her mixtape, But You Caint Use My Phone, generated tremendous buzz and her always-engaging Twitter page entertaining fans on a daily basis, we thought it was a good time to show the lady from Dallas some love. Here are 10 of the greatest songs in Badu’s catalog. NOTE: We didn’t include songs that only featured Erykah Badu — instead focusing on the songs directly from her own discography.
10. “Bag Lady” (2000)
The first single from Badu’s classic sophomore album Mama’s Gun offered some advice to those who don’t know how to put their past pain in their rearview mirror. The lyrics don’t come off as preachy as the subject matter would suggest, as Badu sounds more like a sister talking to her friends with love as she sings “One day, he gone say, you crowdin’ his space.” It’s a bit of real-life wisdom mixed with Badu’s own eclectic idiosyncrasies — always a hallmark for a great Badu song.
9. “Gone, Baby (Don’t Be Long)” (2010)
“I know you got to get yo hustle on …” Badu sang in her 1997 single “Otherside of the Game,” and she echos that sentiment again here. Over a sample of Paul McCartney’s “Arrow Through Me,” the songstress encourages a lover to go get his work done, letting him know that she understands he has to go do his thing, but making sure he understands that she isn’t going anywhere. “I can’t wait to see what you do,” “I can’t wait to see what you be,” she sings over the sultry backing. It’s a standout track from her underrated New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) album.
8. “On and On” (1997)
Very few debut singles are as definitive as this. From the very first notes the world heard her sing, Erykah Badu’s persona and sound were fully-formed. She was a revelation and a revolution in 1997, as “neo-soul” was still in its infancy and its two biggest stars at that point were men, namely D’Angelo and Maxwell. With her declaration that she was “born underwater, with two dollars and six dimes …” she was a new voice for a generation of women coming of age in the latter part of the Clinton era and she was just getting started.
7. “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)” (2002)
An unofficial “sequel” to her then-boyfriend Common’s classic 1994 single “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” this was Badu’s tribute to the culture and genre that forged so much of her unique sensibility. With an assist from Common, she outlines her youthful enthusiasm for the music and presents hip-hop as a former lover that she can’t turn away from. The song became one of her definitive singles and a perfect celebration of the music that inspired her.
6. “Window Seat” (2010)
Reaching back to some of the feel of her Mama’s Gun period work, Badu uses the metaphor of flying and wanting to be allowed to sit next to the window and not be bothered as a jumping off point for once again addressing a lover who she says that she needs to want her, miss her and give her attention. The conflict is articulated perfectly and though the video — which featured a fully nude Badu walking Dealy Plaza in Dallas — caught most of the attention at the time, what was overlooked was that the singer had released her best single in years.
5. “Kiss Me On My Neck” (2000)
“I want somebody to walk up behind me and kiss me on my neck …” Badu sounds like a request and a demand on another of the best tracks from Mama’s Gun. Echoing the swagger of Betty Davis over a thumping groove, she quickly exposes some of that trademark Badu vulnerability (“Been so long, I forgot that I was fine”) while also maintaining that always present sense of self and confidence that makes her one of the more intriguing women in music. (“If you want to feel me, better be divine. Bring me water. Water for my mind.”)
4. “Tyrone” (1997)
After the buzz surrounding her acclaimed debut, Badu gave her fans a live album to satiate their jones for more music. The lead single was this standout diss track aimed squarely at an unnamed previous lover who Erykah has decided she’s through with. “I’m gettin’ tired of yo s–t” she sings in a classic opening couplet that immediately became an anthem for women everywhere. It’s a funny and real put-down when Badu advises her former man to “call Tyrone — and tell him come on and help you get yo s–t.”
3. “Green Eyes” (2000)
“My eyes are green — cuz I eat a lotta vegetables …” Badu’s Mama’s Gun is a masterpiece and this extended track closes it in grand fashion. Opening with a nod to the blues and ragtime era (complete with scratchy record effects and muted trumpet background) the song soon shifts moods into darker, jazzier territory as the opening confidence turns into somber regret and confusion over a relationship gone bad. Things get a bit hopeful again as Badu comes to grips with past love lost and the tone becomes more triumphant as she sings of what she’s learned and admits “I don’t know why I f–k wit you.” It’s an amazing 10 minutes of music.
2. “Next Lifetime” (1997)
This classic ode to meeting the right person at the wrong time was a standout on Baduizm and it opens with quintessential Badu cool as she advises a would-be lover that she has someone in her life. The song is both realistic and whimsical, like most of the best songs in her catalog. And the video featured hip-hop legends like Method Man and Pete Rock, and it was the first time fans saw Badu and her soon-to-be boo Andre 3000 cuddling up together.
1. “Didn’t Cha Know” (2000)
One of the most beautiful productions crafted by the late J. Dilla (who created a plethora of beautiful productions), this ethereal and melodic single is so quintessentially Badu it’s the closest she has to a definitive song. The lyrics are about searching and discovery, as she acknowledges that you “never how where the cards may lay,” and “so many things are still unknown, so many times to change my mind.” Badu’s persona may be more defined by both her earliest material and her latter image, but no song sums up the artist that she is better than this succinctly curious track. “Tried to run but I lost my way.” “Knew the toll but I would not pay.” She offers that you can “take the ride of life with me .. .there will be a brighter day.” Say word.