100 Best Albums In 1997, as a new cadre of socially conscious, hip-hop soul songwriters was emerging from the underground, Baduizm shifted the entire R&B landscape. A 25-year-old Texan with a preternaturally cool sense of groove and a jazz twang that conjured Billie Holliday with a joint simmering between her fingers, Badu brought an approach to songwriting that simply was the sound of neo-soul. “Baduizm was designed to get you high,” she said at the time. “Baduizm is lighting my incense, lighting my candles, knowing the creator, knowing myself.” Her approach to spirituality in her music was down-to-earth—as was her style, with flowing dresses and an omnipresent head wrap. But her music was otherworldly, even as she sang conversationally about the concerns of the everywoman, whether working poverty and sociopolitical pressures or the dirty deeds of unworthy lovers. Propelled by the slow groove of her rotating backing band, including bass legend Ron Carter and a little-known Philadelphia group called The Roots, she channeled and then embodied a cultural shift towards Afrocentricism, creating a sonic throughline of Black musics like ’30s blues and ’70s jazz to soul on the precipice of a new millennium, all anchored by a deeply funky rhythm section. “Sometimes (Mix #9)” makes great use of Philly’s Gamble and Huff-style groove, while lead single “On & On” brought Blue Note Records to the era of the b-girl. One of Badu’s great feats was the way she wove her voice in and around the bass and drums like sultry tendrils of smoke, loose as a free-jazz saxophonist when she wanted to be. The cohesion and promise of Baduizm’s vision took her triple-platinum and made her a star, and hinted at her long career to come.

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