A character like Erykah Badu has been such a long time in coming, we've almost forgotten that someone as special as her is a possibility at all. The 25-year-old Texan is Billie Holiday with a PhD. Even more cannily, she's also emerged as a darling of Nineties hip-hop heads as much as Seventies R'n'B connoisseurs - she's that much of a groundbreaker. The voice is extraordinarily poised and soulful, a little world-weary when it wants to be, but mostly quite youthful. A good enough voice has propelled her high very quickly in the US - her debut album Baduizm zoomed into the Billboard chart at number 2, the highest-ever debut by a female singer. The first single in the UK, "On & On" was a marvel - sultry funk with a faint aroma of jazz and the odd sprinkle of rap. She can mix these influences with a subtlety few others come near.
But what sets her apart from her lip- glossed swingbeat girl contemporaries are her lyrics. "Baby-baby-I-lurve you" is out of the question. If she's in love, it doesn't mean she'll just jump into bed with someone ("Next Lifetime"), and it certainly doesn't mean the man can do no wrong. In "Other Side Of The Game" Badu takes the perspective of a woman whose boyfriend is a drug dealer ("And it ain't that he's got no education/Cause I was right there at his graduation"). It is highly charged, painfully poignant songs like this - as well as stunning live performances of the type she put on at The Jazz Cafe a few months back - that is making her a star. The lads she teased onto the stage for an encore will probably hear themselves on the live version of "Next Lifetime", the new single.
She deserves higher billing than old stalwart Neneh Cherry at the Jamiroquai Jam in the Park Festival - not only does she deserve early messiah-like status, but she has the detached, cool air to be able to handle it well. Other artists joining this Finsbury Park party include slick kids Damage, teenage songbird Shola Ama, techno/jungle weirdos Lamb and ebullient rapsters The Pharcyde.
EYE ON THE NEW The last couple of chances on this tour to catch pop juveniles Symposium, as they spread a little teenage delinquency in gigland. "The Answer To Why I Hate You" may have cracked the top 40 but it is pretty conservative noise pop; it's their near-legendary gigs people really rate them for.
Liverpool Lomax (0151-709 4321) 10 Jun; Birmingham Irish Centre (0121-622 2314) 11 Jun