To a select few, Erykah Badu is larger than life. Her aura is unlike any other, as she represents so many things to so many women, and she is one of those rare musical figures whose persona surpasses their music. It is yet to be seen what her legacy will be as she eventually transcends this lifetime, but while she is alive and well, and still making wonderful music, we can enjoy her for years to come…but let’s back up and look at one song which is symbolic of her career, one that women identify with, one that is her most profound song, Bag Lady. Ms. Badu has touched on many topics from the feminine perspective, more specifically the African American feminine perspective, from “Green Eyes”, to “Callin’ Tyrone”, to “I’ll do anything for you”, but Bag Lady stands out on many levels, and here is why.
Earlier, we discussed the sample of Bag Lady, arranged by the late great Isaac Hayes, but you may not credit Hayes with the sample, as Badu blatantly and almost identically used the beat for Dr. Dre’s Xxplosive (with the exception of an extra hi-hat somewhere in there). If reusing a sample that someone used is considered faux pas, it’s uncertain what exactly you would call this… and not only did she reuse the beat, she released Bag Lady while Xxplosive was still getting plenty of radio play!…and THAT is what made it great. Reminiscent of Ice Cube, she jacked it and took it for her own. The audacity of her to do that. She ignored criticism, took a risk, It exhumed confidence…and that was before she even said a word.
Without question, the brazen lyrics of Xxplosive are an FCC nightmare, with its blatant, desensitizing misogyny at the forefront of its shock value. What Badu did is she took the beat to one of the most misogynistic, degrading, offensive rap songs and she had Bumpy’s Lament doing a complete 180. As Badu graced the track, she made it empowering, uplifting, and heartfelt. It was as if it was a response to Xxplosive, as it taught women to be accepting of personal insecurities, and identifying with the plight of being in a male dominated society. It embraced all women in the most cleverest of ways, addressing them as metaphorical “bag ladies”, and it’s message resonates with men, as it showed a perspective that is seldom shown and embraced in popular music.
Most people hear know (and love) the Xxplosive version, but on Badu’s album Mama’s Gun, there is a stripped down, live, semi-acoustic version of the song, which gives the song an entirely new identity. It is extremely noteworthy when a song can have the exact same lyrics, and have two completely different personalities, and have them both sonically make sense.
The final reason that makes this song on a special pedestal of Baduism is the video, and how it does an excellent job in bringing the profound lyrics to life. No fancy effects, no big budget. Its unique conceptualization of the song, and it’s naturalness is what makes it so extraordinary. From a male perspective, this video displays not only the constant plight of women living in this society, but it also exposes the constant pressure for each one of us, women and men, to define gender roles, even when we don’t wan’t to, even if they don’t make much sense. This song is a 3 minute life lesson that can help you become a better person, both inside and out.
Thank you, Ms. Badu, even if it is twelve years later.
Art by Andre Woolery.
Written by: Haylow