The Best of Erykah Badu (review)

SHE HAS ONLY THREE ALBUMS, but R&B singer/songwriter Erykah Badu has produced a rich range of material. She toys with themes and sounds and never loses her daring or sense of humor. Here’s our guide to Badu’s best:

  1. “Next Lifetime.” Though she debuted with the quirky “On and On,” this cut is different, finding her torn between two lovers and proving she could be vulnerable, sexy and touching.
  2. “Otherside of the Game.” She showed another dimension with this ballad about being in love with a drug dealer. Lines like “work ain’t honest but it pays the bills” perfectly capture her ambivalence and struggle.
  3. “Tyrone.” At first, it seemed excessive when new artist Badu decided to put out a live album in the year of her debut. But this cheeky kiss-off to a lazy boyfriend made the set worthwhile.
  4. “Southern Girl.” Over a thick bass rhythm made entirely by the mouth of human beatbox Rahzel, Badu chronicles the many things that make her a proud daughter of the black South. It also showcased her funny side with lyrics like “Countrified/Everything I eat is fried/Got a Southern drawl/I’m so country, y’all.”
  5. “Bag Lady.” A witty empowerment anthem about shedding emotional baggage, it was the lead single from her third album, “Mama’s Gun,” a hip-hop-soul masterpiece.
  6. “Booty.” At first, this song seems like a simple boast, with Badu claiming she can charm a man away from his girlfriend. But then she says she wouldn’t be with a guy who’d abandon someone over her. “I don’t want him . . . and you don’t need him/’Cause he ain’t ready,” she sings over a bumping blend of ’70s-era horn blasts and go-go percussion.
  7. “Cleva.” Talk about keeping it real. This is the opposite of “Booty.” Instead of listing her attributes on this jazzy number, she catalogs what she feels are her flaws: sagging breasts, a potbelly, hair that won’t grow. But it’s all redeemed by her mind (“I’m cleva when I bust a rhyme.”)
  8. “A.D. 2000.” Badu joins ’70s soul singer Betty Wright for an acoustic guitar-driven tune about Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo, shot to death by New York City police in 1999.
  9. “Green Eyes.” This three-part suite about Badu’s wrenching breakup from OutKast member Dre is as moving as it is ambitious. Most cutting line: You “never knew what a friendship was/ Never knew how to really love.”
  10. “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop).” On this recent No. 1 R&B hit, Badu sings about hip-hop as if it were a sweet first love. The song could be used as a primer for anyone who still doesn’t understand the joys of hearing a def rhyme over a dope beat.

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