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Erykah Badu – On

How Erykah Badu’s “On & On” Became a Neo Soul Classic

How Erykah Badu's

Erykah Badu is one of the most influential artists of the neo soul movement, a genre that blends elements of R&B, jazz, hip hop and soul. Her debut single “On & On” was released in 1997 and became a hit, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and the UK Singles Chart. The song also won a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 1998.

But what makes “On & On” so special? How did it capture the essence of neo soul and showcase Badu’s unique vocal style and lyrical prowess? Here are some of the reasons why “On & On” is a neo soul classic:

  • The production: The song was produced by JaBorn Jamal and Bob Power, who created a smooth and organic sound that complemented Badu’s voice. The song features a sample of “Tarika Blue” by Tarika Blue, a jazz-funk band from the 1970s. The sample provides a mellow groove that sets the mood for the song. The song also incorporates live instruments, such as drums, bass, guitar and keyboards, giving it a warm and authentic feel.
  • The vocals: Badu’s voice is one of the most distinctive and recognizable in the music industry. She has been compared to legendary singers such as Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Chaka Khan. Her voice is rich, expressive and soulful, with a hint of raspiness and a wide range. She can sing softly and sweetly, as well as powerfully and passionately. She also uses vocal improvisation and scatting to add flavor and personality to her songs.
  • The lyrics: Badu’s lyrics are poetic, witty and insightful. She draws inspiration from various sources, such as spirituality, philosophy, astrology and African culture. She also references the teachings of the Nation of Gods and Earths (also known as the Five Percent Nation), a group that believes that black people are the original people of the planet and that they have divine potential. In “On & On”, she uses metaphors, wordplay and symbolism to convey her message of self-knowledge, empowerment and love.

“On & On” is not only a great song, but also a cultural phenomenon. It introduced Erykah Badu to the world and established her as a leader of the neo soul movement. It also influenced many other artists who followed in her footsteps, such as Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, India.Arie and Alicia Keys. “On & On” is a timeless masterpiece that will always be remembered as one of the best songs of Erykah Badu and of neo soul.

One of the most remarkable aspects of “On & On” is how Badu incorporates principles from the Nation of Gods and Earths (a.k.a. the Five Percent Nation) into her lyrics. The group was founded in 1964 by Clarence 13X, a former member of the Nation of Islam, who taught that black people are the original and supreme beings of the universe and that they have a duty to enlighten themselves and others. The group uses a system of Supreme Mathematics and Supreme Alphabet to interpret reality and express their worldview.

In “On & On”, Badu uses several terms and concepts from the Five Percent Nation, such as “cypher”, “math”, “God”, “Earth” and “knowledge”. For example, in the chorus, she sings “My cypher keeps moving like a rolling stone”, which means that her circle of influence and creativity keeps expanding and evolving. She also sings “If your knowledge were your wealth, then it would be well-earned”, which implies that learning and understanding are more valuable than material possessions. She also questions the effectiveness of her message if people cannot understand her, saying “What good do your words do if they can’t understand you?”

Another example is in the second verse, where she sings “I was born under water with three dollars and six dimes / Yeah you might laugh ’cause you did not do your math”. This is a reference to her birth date, February 26th, which can be written as 2/26. In Supreme Mathematics, 2 represents wisdom, 6 represents equality and 26 represents God. Therefore, Badu is implying that she was born with divine wisdom and equality. She also challenges the listener to do their math, meaning to study and comprehend the teachings of the Five Percent Nation.

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