Wednesday, February 16, 2011

February 16: Erykah Badu, "On & On"

Artist: Erykah Badu
Song: "On & On"
Album: Baduizm
Year: 1997

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

In an era when music was quickly becoming overly artificial, the few artists that had “real” talent and made a point of making music their own way became all the more precious.  To bring a fresh, uncompromising sound was strangely a revolutionary idea, and this is much the reason for the decline of record sales as the 1990’s came to a close.  It is perhaps due to these musically grim circumstances that the achievements of some artists have been overplayed, and yet there is at least one performer that proved that even in an overly-digital age, the “old school” sounds could not only thrive, but overshadow the more modern music.  Among the handful of artists who personified this idea, there is none more accomplished or outright stunning than one finds within the music of Erykah Badu.  Bringing together elements of soul, funk, r&b, and hip-hop, her organic, emotional sound is able to reach fans of every style, and this is much the reason she remains such a highly respected artist across the globe.  Though her later records are not to be missed, it is her 1997 debut, Baduizm, that stands as her finest work, and the pure sonic bliss that can be found throughout the record makes it understandable why she found worldwide success so quickly.  Perfectly fusing together head bobbing beats with her absolutely beautiful voice, it is impossible not to be completely captivated by the entire record, and everything that makes her so wonderfully unique can be experienced within Erykah Badu’s monumental 1997 single, “On & On.”

The instant that “On & On” begins, it is instantly clear just how many styles and influences are going to be intermixed on the track, as the bouncing beat is as good as a hip-hop fan could want, and yet there is a smooth, almost sultry nod that gives the song a far wider appeal.  The way in which the jazzy, smoky piano plays against the knocking beat transports the listener into a dim nightclub, and yet the production team was able to create this mood without overdoing it.  On the bridge section, the looped sound effect somehow manages to fit perfectly, and it is in this aspect where one can see the ideal blending of old and new styles.  This, in many ways, defines everything that Erykah Badu seems to strive to achieve, finding balance in every sense of the word, and it is her unique approach found on “On & On” that eventually garnered a Grammy Award.  The way in which the various sounds soar across the track, yet the mellow, almost reflective mood is never lost, and it enables the song to become one of the finest "chill out" tracks ever recorded.  Yet at the same time, the arrangement almost seems sparse at places, allowing for the focus to remain on Badu's voice.  It was due to this distinctive combination of sounds and styles that the phrase "neo soul" was coined, and there are few better examples of its meaning than one finds on "On & On."

While the music on "On & On" is nothing short of captivating, it is the voice of Erykah Badu that leaves one completely stunned, and there has never been another performer that even came remotely close to the sound and style within her vocal delivery.  Whether she is singing a deeper, more reflective style, or letting her voice soar in an unrestrained manner, Badu is never anything short of perfect throughout the song, and one cannot help but compare her sound to the greatest soul and jazz singers from decades earlier.  Yet there is a sorrow and grit to the voice of Erykah Badu that separates her from all her peers, and itis in her singing that one can make a close tie to the blues.  Taken as a whole, few artists from any style of any era have been able to inject as much emotion into their music as one can experience on "On & On," and even those not familiar with jazz or soul cannot help but be completely drawn into the song.  This is largely due to the fact that along with her phenomenal vocal performance, the lyrics to the song are just as alluring, and they can be interpreted on a number of different levels.  Whether one is looking for brilliantly phrased, hip-hop style visuals, or smooth, introspective blues and jazz lyrics, there is something for everyone within the words to "On & On," and yet few lines are as memorable as when Badu sings, " rush into destruction 'cause you don't have nothing left, the Mothership can't save you so your ass is gon' get left..."

Without question, Erykah Badu remains one of the most impossible to define artists in all of music history.  Somewhat hip-hop, somewhat jazz, somewhat blues, she is perhaps the most truly unique performer of her generation.  The way in which she seamlessly blends together all of her influences into something that is a perfect balance of all these elements shows her understanding of musical structure, as well as her commitment to her own sound.  Bringing a musical arrangement that fuses together the best of blues, jazz, and soul, all inter-twined with a beat that fit perfectly within the hip-hop sound of the time, Badu served as a reminder that there was nothing better than truly unique and personal music.  This is perhaps the key to her sound, as one can clearly hear a proximity to every song, and there is also a sense of enjoyment that one can detect within Badu's singing.  The way in which she works all over the vocal spectrum in terms of style and note was beyond refreshing at the time, and more than a decade since its first release, her 1997 debut record still knows very few peers.  Though there had been a handful of artists who had already experimented with what would be termed "neo soul," it was Badu that truly put the sound on the map and gave it its finest definition.  Combining a wide range of influences with what stands as one of the most distinguished and truly beautiful voices in all of music history, one must experience firsthand the stunning sound on Erykah Badu's 1997 single, "On & On" to properly understand why she remains such a highly revered figured within the current music scene.

No comments: