Song: “Apple Tree”
Artist: Erykah Badu
Album: Baduizm (1997)
Neo-soul’s queen Erykah Badu, ever-decked out in headwrap and nasal-tinged funk vocals, entered the R&B scene during one of its most pivotal, female-dominated generations. From the mid-90s onward, the songstress’ beatnik presence, whiny tonal oddity–and preference for scratchy, old-school beats as her instrumental canvas–made her and her first studio album, Baduizm, instant classics.
The 1997 EP, not only iconic for its significance in R&B, became a hallowed haven for hip-hop and rap sampling, amassed radio circulation, and [still] serves as one of the decade’s smoothest and most soothing slices of soul. Amongst the work’s nods to jazz, pop, African, soul, and more–a free-flowing optimism oozes from the heart of it, its beyond-instrumental ambience nothing short of spiritual.
More so, Baduizm proved that Badu could—without losing a conceptual focus—play sleek storyteller (“Apple Tree”), rhythm zealot (“Rim Shot (Intro)”), elusive flame (“Next Lifetime”), and blasé, tea-wielding sage (“On And On”). As organic as it is mod, the album breaks all genre-dividing rules as Badu formulates her own, and throws the R&B aesthetic for a curve.
On “Apple Tree”, a cozy and content Badu murmurs, “It was a stormy night, ya know the kind where lightnin’ strikes/ Incense was burnin’ so I’m feelin’ right, aight…”, draping the glossy, unbothered track with her signature soul-child garnish and a ‘let it be’ virtue. Employing the song’s title in shrewd, natural metaphor (“see, I pick my friends like I pick my fruit”), the singer croons her verses around self-love and keeping your circle small.