Perhaps most importantly, thanks to Erykah (and collaborators The Roots, whose ensemble-driven hip-hop would break into the mainstream a few years later with Things Fall Apart), a whole generation of R&B fans learned the power of going back to basics, laying the groundwork for a revivalist trend in both R&B and jazz that inspired its own controversial moniker: neo-soul. Artists from Common to India.Arie to Lauryn Hill were drawn into Badu’s artistic orbit, creating a bona fide movement that had both commercial and aesthetic consequences through the mid-aughts.
To celebrate two decades of Baduizm since its '97 release, Billboard spoke with 11 people connected to the genesis of the album, from the Dallas producers who knew her when she was still performing as Erykah Free, to the director of her first music video, to Kedar Massenburg, who signed Badu after steering D'Angelo's 1995 debut, Brown Sugar. Most importantly, we spoke to Ms. Badu herself. Read on (& on & on & on) for the story behind Baduizm.
In Order of Appearance
Madukwu Chinwah, Co-writer/producer ("Rimshot," "Certainly")
Kedar Massenburg, Executive producer, head of Kedar Entertainment, D'Angelo's manager, responsible for coining the term "neo-soul"
Bob Power, Producer, mix engineer, instrumentalist, worked extensively with A Tribe Called Quest ("On & On," "Drama")
Tim Latham, Mix engineer ("Appletree," "Otherside of the Game," "Sometimes," "Next Lifetime," "Certainly," "4 Leaf Clover")
Miles Marshall Lewis, Writer, journalist, author of Rolling Stone's original Baduizm review in 1997 and an early profile on Badu in The Source magazine
Jackie Rhinehart, Then-vp of marketing, Motown
David Ivory, Recording engineer at Philadelphia's Sigma Sound Studios, longtime Roots engineer ("Otherside of the Game," "Sometimes," "Afro (Freestyle Skit)")
James Poyser, Keyboardist, producer, co-writer longtime Badu collaborator, current member of the Roots ("Otherside of the Game," "Sometimes," "Afro (Freestyle Skit)")
Paul Hunter, Video director ("On & On")
Chris Trevett, Staff producer/engineer at Zomba/Battery Studios in New York City ("Rimshot," "Next Lifetime," "Certainly")
Madukwu Chinwah (co-writer/producer): I was a rapper and Erykah was a rapper -- I met her at Dallas’s KNON community radio station via a DJ named Nippy Jones. Her appearance was always original. It was different than what we see now -- she dressed more like TLC -- but it was fly then as it’s fly now.
Erykah Badu: I was always a little ahead of my time, as they say. So I’d have to wait for people to catch up. Or wait for them to get approval from the other people nodding their heads before they actually acknowledged that, yes, this was cool. I was really used to that. While recording the demo [Country Cousins, the 19-song project she recorded with her cousin Robert “Free” Bradford, which served as the foundation for much of Baduizm], I was teaching at the South Dallas Cultural Center. I majored in theater at Grambling [State University], and when I came home, taught theater and dance to students aged 5-17. I also taught them meditation, yoga, transcendental breathing, and things like that.
Chinwah: She was very popular, even in her teens. She was a dancer, and she taught dance to children for free. She was also a hostess at Steve Harvey’s comedy club here in town. She was everywhere there was art.