Erykah Badu is so frustrating.
On one hand, she’s spent the past 20 years redefining modern soul, delivering albums and songs that have become the stuff of pop culture legend.
On the other hand, she’s been notoriously stingy with new material over the years. Since 1997, the enigmatic Badu has only given us five LPs, one live album and one mixtape.
I swear we got more Young Thug albums in 2017 alone than Badu has delivered her entire career. But her mystique has only added to her legacy.
Let’s look back at Erykah’s catalog from bottom to top. As always, we’ll be excluding mixtapes, live albums and compilations. If you’ve got a problem with that, call Tyrone.
5. Worldwide Underground (2003)
Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Edd said: Let’s clarify one thing right off the bat – there’s no such thing as a “bad” Badu album. But something has to come in last on the list, right? Don’t consider that a slight on the quality of Worldwide Underground – it’s filled with strong, hip-hop influenced cuts that will be greatly appreciated by old school fans. Still the set feels a bit too much like an unfocused jam session in spots instead of a fully formed LP. It’s solid but Badu would top this one many times over.
Forgotten favorites: “Love of My Live Worldwide,” “I Want You,” “Back in the Day (Puff)”
4. New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) (2008)
Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Edd said: I’m sure this ranking will be the one that will set my mentions ablaze. I totally get why. New Amerykah Part One is an extremely difficult album to categorize – it’s like nothing that came before or after it. Outside of a few familiar tracks like “Honey” (maybe my favorite Badu song of them all), its brand of futuristic funk is can be tough for more traditional R&B fans to digest. But stick with it and you’ll be treated to bleak yet insightful political commentary that proved to be way ahead of its time. Trust me, if this thing dropped in 2017, Twitter would lose its collective hive mind. This album makes you work to love it. It’s still a satisfying journey.
Forgotten favorites: “The Healer,” “My People,” “The Cell”
3. New Amerykah Park Two (Return of the Ankh) (2010)
Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5
Edd said: If New Amerykah Part One was the sharp left turn in Badu’s trajectory, Part Two was a bit of a course correction. While less sonically challenging as its predecessor, Part Two is much more warm and inviting, with smooth production and generous use of memorable samples making this feel like a bit of a homecoming. Of all her releases, Part Two feels most like the sonic sibling of Badu’s classic debut. Despite the occasional weak spot here and there, it’s a fulfilling soulful experience.
Forgotten favorites: “Out of My Mind, Just In Time,” “Umm Hmm,” “You Loving Me (Session)”
2. Mama’s Gun (2000)
Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Edd said: Raw. That’s the best description of Erykah Badu’s sophomore album – the perfect evolution from her celebrated 1997 debut. From attempting to ease the burden of the working woman on “Bag Lady” while also celebrating the importance of self-love on “Kiss Me On My Neck,” Mama’s Gun’s key theme is liberation. In an era where love in R&B was becoming more superficial, Badu pushed for authenticity, and in the process created some of her best work.
Forgotten favorites: “Kiss Me On My Neck (Hesi),” “Booty,” “Time’s A Wastin'”
1. Baduizm (1997)
Soul In Stereo rating: 5 stars out of 5
Edd said: I still remember hearing Badu’s “On and On” for the first time – it was so rich, so soulful, so different, that I though it was a commercial for one of those chitlin circuit plays that would come to town every few months. Seriously. I caught the video on BET soon after and I was immediately hooked. Baduizm is an album that linked two generations, one that borrowed from the blueprint set by legends like Billie Holiday and infused it with late 90s hip-hop sensibilities. Jazz, ’70s soul and rap were blended to create an album that directly spoke to its young audience by using a voice dripping with the wisdom of their forefathers. Baduizm still stands as one of the greatest R&B albums of the past 20 years.
Forgotten favorites: “Appletree,” “4 Leaf Clover,” “Certainly (Flipped It)”
What are your favorite Badu albums? Let us know below.