April 24, 2024

The 19 Best Erykah Badu Songs

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Shelby Stewart

Shelby Stewart is a writer from Houston, Texas passionate about…

Erykah Badu live silver hat

DALLAS, TX – FEBRUARY 24: American singer-songwriter Erykah Badu performs on stage during “Another Badu Birthday Bash” concert at The Factory in Deep Ellum on February 24, 2023 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)

Whether you know her as Erykah Badu or one of her many aliases (Fat Belly Bella, Badulla Oblongata, She iLL, Loretta Brown, Sera Bellum — it’s almost too many to name, honestly), the South Dallas native has grown to become the crowned queen of Afrofuturism thanks to her lush serenades.

Badu’s radiating energy and unmistakable green eyes have made her a household name, and her discography is still being played today, nearly 25 years after the release of her 1997 debut album, Baduizm. Since then, she’s dropped six albums, with each one cementing her legacy as one of the first ladies of neo soul.

In honor of Ms. Badu, we’ve highlighted the best songs across her catalog. From the Common-featuring “Love of My Life” to the poignant breakup track that is “Green Eyes,” here are the 19 best Erykah Badu songs.

19. “Back In The Day (Puff)”

The second single from Worldwide Underground enlisted the genius of The Roots’ James Poyser and Rashad Ringo Smith. The instrumentation is worth noting, the wavy funk rhythm of the guitar and the sonics of the keys creating an earthy groove. The drums on the track are soulful and funky, yet airy and nostalgic. All of it adds to the reflectiveness of the song, as Badu reminisces on the good ol’ days when things were much more simple, and all you needed was some soulflower, music, and a park to ride the whip around to have a good day.

18. “Love of My Life” feat. Common

Written as an ode to hip-hop, “Love of My Life” is a Raphael Saadiq-produced masterpiece. The essence of the song is that music — specifically hip-hop — is still capable of healing, able to be one’s best friend, teacher, inspiration, motivation, and shoulder to cry on all at once. It’s fitting that Common is on here, having made his own ode to hip-hop in the poignant “I Used to Love H.E.R.” But where that one provided a critical look at hip-hop and how it was changing, “Love of My Life” is celebratory and upbeat. Common even revisits “H.E.R.” in his guest verse with newfound optimism, showing how for him and Badu, hip-hop is always something they can turn to.

17. “Appletree”

As someone who always marched to the beat of her own drum, it’s not hard for Erykah to remain true to herself and her ideas. The song places an emphasis on life lessons like counting your blessings, choosing your friends wisely, and always being yourself. “And if you don’t want to be down with me, you just don’t want to be down,” she raps, the straightforward declaration embodying what “Appletree” is all about.

16. “Booty”

Hip-hop has often glorified full-figured women, but that doesn’t stop a young and skinny Badu from taking your man. “Your booty might be bigger, but I still can pull your nigga,” she opens “Booty” with, her cool croon going down a list of why this man prefers her over this anonymous woman. She ends up contradicting herself once she gets to the refrain, having a moment of enlightenment where she realizes she doesn’t want a man who’s already involved with someone else. As the old adage goes, “How you get them, is how you lose them.”

15. “Danger”

World Wide Underground’s “Danger” is the spiritual successor to Baduizm’s “Otherside of the Game.” At the opening of the former track, there are remnants of lyrics from the 1997 hustler’s wife anthem. But “Danger” picks up where “Otherside” left off, with echoes of a collect call from the penitentiary playing in the background before the beat drops. “Otherside” foreshadowed the cost of taking penitentiary chances. “Danger” is what happens in the aftermath. While Badu was once concerned about the ramifications of street life, “Danger” finds her taking on a more trap queen approach.

14. “Honey”

As the lead single from 2008’s New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), the 9th Wonder-produced “Honey” is arguably the most visible showcase of Badu’s genius. Utilizing a sample from Nancy Wilson’s 1978 song “I’m in Love,” and an interpolation of Minnie Riperton’s 1974 hit single “Lovin’ You,” the song radiates positive energy. The airy deep cut is a game of cat and mouse between Erykah and her lover named Slim, who she thinks is “so sweet.” The accompanying music video, set in a vinyl shop, was a tribute to several quintessential Black R&B and hip-hop performers including Diana Ross, Eric B. & Rakim, De La Soul, and Earth, Wind & Fire.

13. “Time’s a Wastin’”

“Times a Wastin’” is one of the few grossly underrated Badu songs. The penultimate track feels like an anthem to the Black man. She speaks to the brothers who are lost and can’t seem to find their way in this “oh-so-strange world,” and shares the perils of living in a world that has perpetually shown that it doesn’t love them back. While the injustice of this world can’t always be avoided, having a plan for your life is what she says can change your outcome. Her voice serenades in a lullaby-like manner that contrasts the uncertainty of the violins, creating a sobering admonition to proceed with caution because we aren’t granted the privilege of being adrift.

12. “Bag Lady”

The emotional baggage that comes with the end of a relationship can weigh anybody down. “Bag Lady” remains a quotable and poetic psalm on carrying weight that doesn’t belong to you. Badu makes a compelling argument that although the baggage is emotional, it can manifest itself into physical discomfort, poignantly captured in arguably the most memorable line from the song: “Bag lady, you gon’ hurt yo’ back, dragging all them bags like that.” “Bag Lady” is a mantra to stay true to yourself and let go of what you no longer need, so that you can make it to your next destination.

11. “Didn’t Cha Know”

The second single from Mamas Gun is a stellar collaboration between Badu and the late J Dilla. Using a sample of Tarika Blue’s 1977 song “Dreamflower,” the song is a smooth and soulful serenade about accepting your wins and losses. Life doesn’t come with instructions, but that’s the beauty of it. Even through the worst of mistakes and wrong turns, our destinies are divinely secured.

10. “Soldier”

Erykah peels back the layer of a prim and polished America to reveal the transgressions behind the curtain. The political outcry of “Soldier” calls out slavery and its implications in modern society, as well as the effects of generations of systemic oppression on Black people. The messaging throughout is outspoken, with Badu even referencing Harriet Tubman: “And if you think about turning back, I got the shotgun on ya back.” For Erykah, the real revolution is spiritual, and the road to liberation comes through consistent knowledge.

9. “Certainly (Flipped It)”

There are two versions of “Certainly” on Baduizm. The first is the original, with jazzy production from Madukwu Chinwah. The second is the flipped remix that samples Kool and the Gang’s “Summer Madness.” In both versions, the lyrics and the meaning remain unchanged, the free-spirited Ms. Badu singing about how she’s not one to feel controlled by others. But the flipped version just pairs so much better with her sentiment, as she asserts her independence from a man and makes it clear that she doesn’t need romantic love to be made whole.

8. “Orange Moon”

The tenth track on Mama’s Gun is a jazzy love ballad that’s symbolic of relationships between man and woman. She once again gleans from the teachings of the Five Percent Nation, where the sun resembles the Black man and the moon is the Black woman. To create the metaphorical “Orange Moon,” Erykah reflects the light of the sun, which is made possible by the love of a man. It’s the type of transcendent love song that only someone like Badu could create, complimenting the track that comes after it, “I’m in Love with You.”

7. “Next Lifetime”

The concept of “right place, wrong time” is very real in Badu’s universe. The second single from Baduizm, “Next Lifetime” is analogous to a “one that got away” love story. Though Erykah admits that she’s “in a situation,” she still envisions what could’ve been. But a missed opportunity in this life only leaves room for another chance in the next — even if that means they’re reincarnated as butterflies.

6. “I’m in Love with You” feat. Stephen Marley

This beautiful duet between Erykah and Stephen Marley may be one of the most underestimated tracks on Mama’s Gun. It ties the entire project together, the eleventh song on the project beautifully capturing what true love is and what it means. Barring the opinions of family and friends, “I’m in Love with You” shows love as a verb and not a noun, choosing to love no matter what may come against your relationship.

5. “Otherside of the Game”

An anthem for a street hustler’s wife, the fourth meditation from Erykah’s Baduizm is an existential crisis. The story details a pregnant woman struggling with being in a relationship with a man who’s caught up in the street life. She visualizes the potential end of the relationship, understanding that the lifestyle comes with many risks for her lover — prison, or worse, the grave — and leaving her to question if she even wants her baby. Though the hustle can provide a better life it can hurt those closest to you, and your loved ones will have to deal with the pain and anguish that comes with it. That’s the other side of the game.

4. “Tyrone”

“I’m getting tired of your shit, you don’t never buy me nothing,” is one of the most brazen opening lines on a song. However, Badu’s confidence in her words on “Tyrone” is something most women can relate to. The bassline of this penultimate track (executed by Hubert Eaves IV) on Badu’s self-titled live album is so groovy, you nearly forget that Erykah is comically telling all of her ex’s shortcomings in a minimalist fashion. Apart from the captivating feel of the song, her talent is palpable, the song born out of a groove her band would jam on during rehearsals.

3. “Window Seat”

Life is full of contradictions. Throughout the busyness of everyday life, sometimes you crave isolation and the need to get away. However, the desire to be wanted is also a part of the human experience. On “Window Seat,” the lone single from New Amerykah, Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh, Erykah grapples with the two and challenges a few other ideas, including groupthink killing individuality and what liberation truly means. The funk-brimming track is Ms. Badu’s expression of ascension and shedding her old desires off the scale, to evolve into a completely new being.

2. “Green Eyes”

There’s a rollercoaster of emotions that comes with heartbreak — denial, confusion, depression, and regret — all of which Erykah feels on this Mamas Gun deep cut. Beyond the bluesy sound of “Green Eyes,” she creates a double entendre. Yes, her eyes are literally green. But the color is also indicative of envy and jealousy, emotions she’s feeling now that her past lover has moved on. Her ethereal vocals are transcendent and vulnerable as she tries to save face with lyrics like, “my eyes are green because I eat a lot of vegetables.” By the end of the track though, Badu reveals what we already knew: that a love that’s reached its end is the source of her growing pains.

1. “On & On”

As Erykah’s debut single from her critically acclaimed Baduizm, you can hear the Billie Holiday influence in her vocals, as well as the Five Percent Nation and Supreme Mathematics teachings in her lyrics throughout “On & On.” One of the most eminent bars from the iconic track mentions how she “was born underwater, with three dollars and six dimes,” her play on words an allusion to the Cipher, a circle of 360 degrees of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. “On & On” takes the top spot because it’s a near flawless track that embodies what makes Badu so great, its psychedelic poetry just as timeless as it is transcendental.

Shelby Stewart is a writer from Houston, Texas passionate about covering stories on Southern culture. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her championing Westside Gunn lyrics. You can follow her on Twitter @ShelbyLnStewart. 



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