15. Erykah Badu "On and On" (1997)
Director: Paul Hunter
It opens with a wide crane shot over a green field, and the title card, in pink, cursive lettering: A story by Erykah Badu. You knew something was different from that first frame. The camera follows Badu—as a maid in a black rural house from a bygone era—as she goes from one house chore to another. Sure, it was a very loose take on (or tribute to) the movie The Color Purple, but really, was so much more than that as a moment: The beginning of Badu's hovering reign over all neo-soul acts to come in the next decade. Throwing on an apron, and spitting a piece of wheat out, she gets to work, throwing strands of hair from that giant bun on her head out of the way every now and then as she does a little girl's hair, and the laundry, but the most striking moment of the video? When Badu, after getting mud on her face, looks up into the camera at 2:26, reciting the song's line as the bass drops out: Damn, y'all feel that?
This video was the combination of sheer, unfiltered charisma, sensuality, the striking image of a Nubian goddess, on MTV of all places. And yeah, there's a nice jazz "club" scene in the end, with Badu in that stunning jade green dress, but the video is already a classic before you get to it. Neo-soul had a new standard, at that point, and wouldn't make another impact on MTV quite like that one until D'Angelo's "Untitled," at the beginning of the new millenium. —Foster Kamer