Badu's debut has created a buzz in the R&B community, and at first listen it's easy to understand why. She has a sweet-and-sour voice that alternately references Billie Holiday and Esther Phillips. And she records for Kedar Massenburg, who once managed D'Angelo (of Brown Sugar fame)—another singer who knows how to work those jazzy inclinations.
Unfortunately, Badu, like many contemporary performers, allows her material to meander, never seizing control; and with the notable exception of her slinky single "On & On," she repeatedly relies on the same vocal mannerisms and musical arrangements.
It's obvious that Badu has skills, and she is to be commended for attempting to stretch the claustrophobic boundaries of R&B. But despite her best intentions, Badu's neo-bohemian stylings quickly become as formulaic as what she's trying to avoid. (Kedar/Universal)