India Arie first emerged in 2001 with her debut album Acoustic Soul. The album was a phenomenon, breaking into the top ten, certifying multi-platinum, earning seven Grammy award nominations, and presenting an artist who could take inspiration from the likes of Roberta Flack and Stevie Wonder while still sounding compellingly contemporary. Since then, Arie has sold over 10 million records worldwide, earned 23 Grammy nominations, and garnered huge critical praise for her soulful delivery and introspective songwriting. Here’s our pick of the 10 best India Arie songs of all time.
10. Strength, Courage, & Wisdom
Arie’s debut album, Acoustic Soul, was a triumph, charting in the top ten of the Billboard 200, picking up seven Grammy nominations, and eventually certifying double platinum. With its layers of acoustic guitars, organs, and lithe beats, introspective lyrics, and seductive vocals, it firmly established the then 25-year-old Arie as one of the most intriguing new talents to emerge in years. The joyously euphoric Strength, Courage, & Wisdom is one of its many highlights, with a chorus so deliriously upbeat, it’s impossible not to feel uplifted.
9. Back to the Middle
Another gem from Arie’s debut album next, this time the wonderful Back to the Middle, a vividly autobiographical coming of age song that showcases Arie’s superb songwriting abilities, a talent that allows her to breathe fresh life into even the most covered topics. Her sandy vocals and soulful delivery are, as usual, exceptional.
8. Get It Together
Voyage to India, Arie’s second album, was released in 2002 to critical and commercial success, debuting at number one on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, number six on the Billboard 200, and winning the Grammy for Best R&B Album. It’s a more polished affair than her debut, but despite the sampled beats and crisp production, it still has an organic simplicity, with enough smatterings of finger snaps and handclaps to keep things soulful. One of its highlights is Get It Together, an exquisite slice of neo-soul that’s since been sampled in numerous TV shows and films, including Brown Sugar and Shark Tale.
7. Peaceful World (with John Mellencamp)
Peaceful World was written by John Mellencamp, who later explained that he’d got the idea for the song from a conversation he’d had with a member of his backing band, Pat Peterson. Speaking to the Denver Post, he said: “She’s my age, and I asked her, ‘What’s the one thing that’s really disturbing to you?’ There was no question about it – it’s how this new rap music is really harmful to the black race. You have the new Uncle Tom, the guy wagging the $200,000 watch and saying, … ‘Gimme the money, man, look what I got that you ain’t got … I’ll say whatever you want me to say, and when this (ends), I’ll just go back to whatever I’m doing, and I don’t care about the damage that I’ve done.’ Meanwhile, white kids in suburbs who buy these records find it entertaining if not comical half the time. They have a really distorted view of what the black race is about. It’s a very bad thing.” After bringing Arie on board, the duo released the song as a single in August 2001, just as Arie was starting out in her career. It didn’t do much in the charts (something Mellencamp later blamed on a lack of promotion) but did manage to snap up a Grammy award nomination.
6. Words (with Anthony David)
In 2006, Arie joined forces with R&B singer-songwriter Anthony David for Words. Arie’s soulful, sultry vocals are the perfect foil to David’s rasp, resulting in a compelling nugget of late-night R&B that ranks as one of the chief attractions of David’s third studio album, Acey Duecy. The sing hit number 53 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and earned the pair a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals in 2009.
5. Brown Skin
Following hot on the heels of her success with her debut single Video, Arie released Brown Skin, a deeply funky, irresistibly sensual song that showcases Arie’s effortless ability to weave her vocals across even the deepest groove. Released as the second single from Acoustic Soul in 2001, it failed to dent the Billboard Hot 100, but became Arie’s highest-charting single in the UK, reaching number 29 on the UK Singles Chart.
4. Little Things
If Arie had a lot to prove after her successful debut, she proved it with aplomb with her sophomore outing, Voyage to India. Described by All Music as a “beautiful surprise” that “easily equals her debut, boasting better vocal performances but also better songwriting and accompanying production,” it’s shot through with irresistible tracks. The lovely Little Things – an infectiously catchy ode to keeping it simple – is one of the chief highlights. Despite only managing to reach number 89 on the Billboard Hot 100, it earned Arie her first Grammy for Best Urban/Alternative Performance.
3. I Am Not My Hair
Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship, Arie’s third studio album, picked up mixed reviews, with some praising its ambition and rich storytelling and others, like Mojo, calling it airless and unengaged. Whether you like the rest of the album or not, it’s impossible to resist the attractions of I Am Not My Hair, which managed to scoop Grammy nominations for both Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
2. The Heart of the Matter
The Heart of the Matter was written by Don Henley, Mike Campbell, and J. D. Souther and first recorded by Henley for his third solo studio album, The End of the Innocence in 1989. In 2006, Arie revisited the song for her third album, Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship. Suffice to say, she did the song justice, earning a top 40 hit on the Canadian Hot 100 and landing at number 79 on the UK Singles Chart. The song earned a fresh wave of popularity in 2008 when it featured in the film adaptation of Sex and the City.
Declarations of self-love don’t get much better than Video, a song that laughs in the face of expectations with lyrics like “My worth is not determined by the price of my clothes/ No matter what I’m wearing I will always be India Arie.” Released as the first single from her debut album Acoustic Soul, it was a remarkable introduction to the singer and one that managed to take her into the top 50 of the Billboard Hot 100 (her highest charting position to date), and pick up Grammy Award nominations for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and Best R&B Song.