Following the runaway success of “On & On” and its mighty follow-up “Next Lifetime,” Erykah Badu released her third single and music video, “Otherside of the Game” in July of 1997. Where the first two singles established her as a singer wise beyond her years, with knowledge of the spiritual laws that govern the world, and a third eye pointed towards the afterlife, “Otherside of the Game,” reminded listeners that she was of this planet, with squarely human concerns.
The song contemplates the conflicting feelings that come from being in a relationship with someone who makes a living outside the law. An easy presumption is drug dealing but, like any true ride or die would do, the specifics are withheld. “Work ain’t honest but it pays the bills,” she repeats as increasing concern playing out on her face.
Written and directed by Badu, the music video plays out as one continuous shot in the large and bohemian chic apartment of the conflicted Badu and her lover. The camera follows them as they wake, dress, tease each other, cuddle, and even do business with what seem to be dirty cops.
As if to further reiterate how much she’s just like us, stressing over loved ones and contemplating difficult decisions, she cast her then-partner Andre 3000 as the street-employed love interest and made a direct reference to her pregnancy with their son Seven. “What are we gonna do when they come for you?” she asks. Having had a father who was in and out of the carceral system, Badu’s lyrics ring with an air of truth.
Badu wrote and arranged the music of the song with James Poyser of the Roots in a single day in Philadelphia. That evening she wrote the lyrics and the next day she recorded it. Peaking at #14 on the R&B Airplay chart in August of 1997, the song didn’t enjoy the same success as her earlier singles. That said, it has aged like fine wine, as evidenced by the countless “throwback” articles in recent years obsessing over the song and music video.