Early in her career, Badu was recognizable for wearing very large and colorful headwraps. For her musical sensibilities, she has often been compared to jazz great Billie Holiday. She was a core member of the Soulquarians, and is also an actress having appeared in a number of films playing a range of supporting roles in movies such as Blues Brothers 2000, The Cider House Rules, and House of D, she is also very prominent in the documentary film Before the Music Dies.
Some music journalists have labeled her Nu soul or neo soul, often comparing her to Billie Holiday in lyrical delivery and grouping her with D'Angelo in musical genre. An eclectic collaborator, she has performed with artists from many different genres and backgrounds, among them roots reggae musician and singer Burning Spear.