They Say I'm Different

They Say I'm Different

You could call the funk singer Betty Davis a precursor of Madonna, or of Lil’ Kim. You could call her a product of her time, or an echo of blues singers like Big Mama Thornton and Bessie Smith. You could call her crass, or you could just call her observant. Generally, you’d be right. It’s easy to see why her 1974 album—her second—got lost when it came out: There was nothing to compare it to, and nothing in the music itself to make a mainstream argument—it’s too raw, not in the avant-garde sense, but in the sense you might apply to punk a few years later. The pleasure isn’t just in her frankness (“Don’t Call Her No Tramp”: “You can call her stupid/And superficial… but don’t you call her no tramp”) or sense of humor (it’s possible the words “I used to beat him with a turquoise chain, yeah!” had never been spoken before, let alone recorded), but in recognizing the dots she connected and ground she laid for later artists—female, especially. She reportedly once turned down Eric Clapton (a partner, briefly) to produce her because she thought his music was too conservative, and by 1974, was producing herself. In the wake of her death in 2022, Erykah Badu commented that we are all grains of sand in her Bettyness—a testament to an artist whose legacy was still shaking out.

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