Photo: Paul R. Giunta
Erykah Badu, the undisputed queen of neo-soul, has been blessing our undeserving ears with blissful vocals and soaring harmonies for quite some time, so it is only right that we celebrate her birthday with a Ones To Know in honor of the distinctive artist. Born under the name Erica Abl Wright and raised in Dallas, Texas by a single mother, the singer-songwriter eventually adopted the name Erykah Badu-"kah" signifying her inner self and "badu" being her favorite jazz scat sound. As an unknown artist, Badu worked countless minimum-wage jobs to support herself until an opening slot for D'Angelo drastically changed the course of the captivating singer's entire future. Immediately after her stunning performance in 1994, Badu was signed to Kedar Entertainment, where she released her first album, Baduizm, three years later.
Influenced by R&B, '70s soul, and '80s hip-hop, Badu's rejuvenating sound is generously paired with her idiosyncratic personality, as one may recall from the sizable and vibrant headwraps she sported in the early days of her career. The first lady of neo-soul believes in embracing purity and authenticity in not just her music, but all aspects of life, practicing veganism since 2006. With ten headlining tours, five studio albums, and four GRAMMYs to her name, Badu has truly reinvented the soul genre for plenty of generations to come. And in honor of her special day, we've hand-picked eight rising artists you need to know if you similarly love Badu.
A 20-year-old beauty from England, Mahalia has appropriately credited the one and only Erykah Badu as one of her biggest inspirations as she experiments with her own daring style of R&B. Having served as an opener for Ed Sheeran and Emeli Sande, Mahalia saw major success with her 2017 single, "Sober," which has racked up over 15-million streams to date on Spotify alone. During our interview with Mahalia last year, she shared, "Now I'm in that season where I am feeling like most of my emotion goes into love and heartbreak. I guess with this [Season] EP, it's five tracks and five different moments in a relationship." Her latest honest single, "Do Not Disturb" showcases Mahalia's evident maturity as she refuses to sulk over an ended relationship and instead chooses to focus on her exponentially growing musical career.
A powerful R&B singer-songwriter who did not discover her undeniable passion for music until she found herself filled with teenage angst and loneliness upon beginning high school, Mereba is widely known for her notable collaborations with GRAMMY-nominated 6LACK, J.I.D, and EARTHGANG. Mereba's most popular track, "Black Truck" glimmers with an otherworldly energy, serving as a testament to her ingenuity, and her latest track, "Sandstorm," is a delicate piano-driven ballad that showcases Mereba's incredibly luscious vocals. As a follow up to Kotton House, Vol. 1, Mereba is finally ready to unveil her enticing new album, The Jungle Is the Only Way Out. Revisit Mereba's stellar performance at Ones To Watch's Baño Flaco last year with our recap video.
Although her current discography may be limited, Ama Lou is most definitely a worthy name you need to familiarize yourself with before her career explodes. Born and raised in London as a classically trained singer, Lou took on songwriting at the young age of 11 before eventually releasing her dynamic debut single, "TBC," which supported the Black Lives Matter movement and rises against police brutality. With an endorsement from Drake, 2018 was a phenomenal year for Lou as she released her pleasing debut EP, DDD, and embarked on her very first tour with Jorja Smith.
Born Rita Ekwere, Ray BLK adds her own personal touch to the R&B scene as her eclectic sounds encompass versatility and tenacity. An acronym for "Building Living Knowing," BLK is the realization of the values she holds most important to her, a fact she shared with us in a 2016 interview. Her outstanding debut EP, Havisham was inspired by Miss Havisham's story in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, which only seems appropriate considering her college degree in English. Honing in on feminism, racism, and violence, her latest album Empress grants the underrepresented a platform for change and progress as she calls for empowerment.
A Chicago-based soul artist, Jamila Woods is widely known for her spirited collaborations with Chance the Rapper on "Sunday Candy" and "Blessings." With a degree in Africana Studies and Theater & Performance Studies, Woods focuses on Black ancestry and identity in her staggering work, which includes songwriting and poetry. Signed to Chicago's independent hip-hop label, Closed Sessions, Woods eventually released her debut album HEAVN, which features Chance the Rapper, Noname, Saba, Lorine Chia, Kweku Collins, and Donnie Trumpet. With her forthcoming record, Legacy! Legacy! due out in 2019, Woods plans to stun us with even more soulful tunes that are bound to keep you craving more.
Growing up in Richmond, California, Kadhja Bonet is the daughter of two accomplished musicians so it is no surprise that her family of seven siblings sparked her interest in music. Her most popular track, "Remember the Rain" features a breathtaking, orchestral aura that lets Bonet's astounding crooning shimmer throughout the emotive ballad. Bonet's enchanting sound has been described as psychedelic soul with subtle hints of jazz. It is a striking sound that you can we can hear throughout her impressive studio albums, Childqueen and The Visitor.
An Indian-American singer based in New York, Raveena uses her moving music to empower women of color by promoting self-love and self-acceptance. Although she only has one EP to her name, there is no doubt in our minds that Raveena has mastered the art of crafting silky smooth tracks that slide beautifully into the realm of R&B. Her latest intimate single, "Temptation" explores themes relating to femininity, personal growth, and empowering women of color. Well-versed in natural meditation methods such as hypnotherapy and reiki, Raveena channels these serene practices into her music to create a similarly soothing atmosphere for her listeners.
One of South East London's finest, Poppy Ajudha continues to make heads turn as she embodies the purity of a brilliantly crafted artist. Influenced by soul, reggae, jazz, funk, and blues, Ajudha released two EPs, Patience and FEMME, last year in preparation for her debut full-length album. Whether it be chords, guitars, or lyrics, Ajudha believes in fully immersing herself in the creative process, so she always puts herself at the forefront of every decision pertaining to her profound music. Because of her indisputable drive and natural talents, Ajudha will continue to shape herself into the polished musician she is destined to be.