This is part of The Shadow League’s Black History Month In Focus series celebrating Black excellence in sports and culture.
I can remember the exact spot I was standing in when I heard the first few knocks.
A car was parked in front of the roti spot, Trinidad Ali’s, on Fulton and Nostrand in my beloved pre-gentrified Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn neighborhood. It had a ridiculous sound system that made the sidewalk vibrate, and within five seconds of hearing something I’d never heard before, something that wrapped some type of hypnotic mysticism into my musical imagination, my nostrils were open. And it wasn’t them delicious aromas coming from them curry chicken roti’s that Trinidad Ali was moving like crack vials.
“Yo, Duke! What is that?” I asked the dude bobbing his head as he gripped the steering wheel in a trance, his face contorted and joyful as if he was about to release some major constipation.
“Ayo, Duke!!!” I screamed louder, pointing to the radio. “What is that???”
He looked at me, and then looked around cautiously, as if he was about to let me in on some classified information.
“Yo! This that Badu shit!”
I had no idea what he was talking about, but I knew I was about to chase this musical high like Gator in Jungle Fever.
I walked home, roti in hand, and couldn’t get her (whoever she was) melodious wonder out of my head. I kept saying the one phrase I was able to latch onto in the few moments that the song had penetrated my virginal ears: “If we were made in his image then call us by our names. Most intellects do not believe in God, but they fear us just the same. Oh, on and on, and on and on….”
There are very few songs that touched my soul and changed my life upon the first few seconds of hearing them. But this was one of them.
That was the first single of Erykah Badu’s incredible debut album, Baduizm, which dropped 20 years ago today, on February 11th, 1997.
When the project came out for mass consumption, I couldn’t stop exploring it, finding something different and uniquely surprising every time I listened to it.
Camp Lo had dropped some flavors with their Uptown Saturday Night album, Puff and Black Rob murdered that I love You, Baby cut a few months later, Busta lit the streets on fire with Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See, Blackstreet and Dr. Dre had everybody from coast to coast saying No Diggity, Keith Sweat had cats crooning, telling fly, shady females that they had us Twisted, and The Fugees were scoring like Wilt Chamberlain at the Playboy Mansion with The Score.
But once that Baduizm dropped, she kicked down some massive doors, ushering in the oncoming wave of neo-soul. Her flavors took it back and propelled the music forward simultaneously. It was deep, it was artsy, it was funky, it was brilliant. Backed by the instruments and production of The Roots, it was a sonic blast that shook the music industry to its core, where real Hip Hop’s DNA began to merge with some genuine R&B artistry.
20 years ago today, Erykah Badu blessed us with a game-changing classic that still knocks as if it just dropped. Damn, now I gotta jet back to Brooklyn and cop me one of them Trinidad Ali roti’s!