Erykah Badu’s Live is 20 Years Old

Rarely does a live concert album match the brilliance and popularity of a studio album, but that’s what Erykah Badu’s Live did when it was released on November 18, 1997, just nine months after the debut of her first and iconic album, Baduizm.

I think the Live album was at least as important, and maybe more, than Baduizm because of the unique advantages of a live concert. Badu has long been known for her eccentric, outsized persona, and the improvisatory nature of a live recording perfectly suited her, propelling this album to platinum status.

Not only did she musically improvise on the live versions of her hits “On and On” and an extended version of “Next Lifetime,” where Badu and all three backup singers got to show off their scatting chops, but she was free to cuss and not worry about radio censorship. And she was able to speak directly to her audience as in “Reprise,” where she explained the Afrocentric philosophy that made “On and On” such a dope, unique song.

But the best thing about this album was the new single she dropped right before Live was released: “Tyrone,” which is still one of Badu’s most memorable — and definitely her most badass — songs. She and the band made it up on stage at a London concert, and says to the audience: “Now keep in mind I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit.” As if she didn’t know the single was fire…

“Tyrone” is still iconic — it really should be seen as one of the direct precursors of some of Beyoncé’s most feminist songs, like “Irreplaceable” and “Sorry”: a woman fed up and kickin’ her man’s ass to the curb. No heartbreak or tears, just “get your shit” and get the fuck out. The other thing that makes “Tyrone” such a memorable song is the wicked humor Badu uses to humiliate her man. I mean, a song that starts with “I’m gettin’ tired of your shit, you don’t never buy me nothing” and whose second verse is “Now every time I ask you for a little cash, you say no but turn right around and ask me for some ass” is ALWAYS gonna stand the test of time.

Happy Anniversary to one of the best neo-soul albums ever made.

Writer. Editor. Independent scholar. I write about pop culture (music/TV/film), Cuba, higher education, and identity.

Writer. Editor. Independent scholar. I write about pop culture (music/TV/film), Cuba, higher education, and identity.