If you’ve been fortunate enough to be there while Erykah Badu works her otherworldly magic, Casey Gerald’s profile will remind you why the singer remains so magnetic, even 13 years after her last conventional studio album. (And if you haven’t been so fortunate, the piece’s lede will transport you there.) It’s not just a work of candor, but one of illumination: Gerald seeks out a wealth of impressive secondaries to shed valuable light on Badu, along with his own considered takeaways.

Let me be as clear as I possibly can: Erykah Badu is not like your aunt, not even your favorite one. I’ve met presidents, mayors, billionaires, Dallas Cowboy Hall of Famers, Holy Land juice healers, TED Talkers — a lot of people, all over the world, and Badu is one of the few who holds up after close inspection. I don’t mean she is perfect. I don’t mean she is better than you or anyone else. I mean she is who she says she is; she is trying to be better than she’s been. Most of all, she seems to truly like, or at least accept, herself. When I learned and saw that she walks barefoot nearly everywhere, and wondered how in the world she keeps her feet clean, she answers, “I don’t. They be black as hell!”