Mary might have the unrivalled rights to the title queen of hip-hop soul, but there is no doubt that Ms Erykah Badu is soul royalty in her own right. When she first burst onto the scene with her stunning debut ‘Baduizm’ in 1997, it was clear that here was an artist or rare talent and rare vision. Like fellow luminary D’Angelo here was an artist for whom the tag neo soul was almost an insult, so restrictive were its boundaries. Effortlessly merging elements of hip-hop, r’n’b, funk soul, jazz and even Gospel, African and reggae roots music, the record declared the emergence of an artist who may have initially grown out of the hip-hop world, but whose scope clearly went way beyond it.
These roots are still important however, and in terms of her core audience is the place that she will always find a welcome home. ‘Baduizm’ and it’s ‘Live’ counterpart showed from a very early stage in her career that there was much more to Badu than was contained in even these virtually perfect gems. 2000’s ‘Mama’s Gun’ proved that point still further (peep ‘Didn’t Cha Know’ on the Unknown playlist), but there were indications even in this brilliant record that the singer’s own creative and experimental urges were taking her to new and slightly frightening new areas.
The self-imposed family break, return to touring, and seeming writer’s block of the early 2000s seemed to further assert this theory, with the rambling and sporadically great funky jam of ‘Worldwide Underground’ testament to the work being put in to define her own direction, further proven in the New Amerykah double albums of most recent times. Badu continues to stretch herself and her audience, and this can sometimes cause a mis-step, but there is no doubt that she remains one of the most captivating and iconic soul singers of our generation. She plays LA’ Wiltern Theater and will no doubt captivate the crowd from the off once more. An enigma inside a modern hip-hop soul legend. Didn’t cha know.