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Brains, Beauty, and Style for Days: Ledisi, Erykah Badu, and Solange cover the May 2014 issue of ESSENCE.

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Anyone who has even the slightest interest in fashion is familiar with the trendsetting style of Solange Knowles. She’s a fashion industry darling who’s always shining a spotlight onto emerging designers (like Boxing Kitten).

From the moment she burst onto the music scene rocking dog-tags and a floor length headwrap in her video for On & On, Erykah Badu has continuously pushed the boundaries of fashion, breaking barriers while she’s at it (see: Erykah Badu for Givenchy).

And then there’s singer/songwriter Ledisi. Her fame might not be as widespread the other ladies, but the eight-time Grammy nominee has had a long and storied history in the industry, with a personal style that’s as strong and vibrant as her vocal ability.

Together the three women— Ledisi, Erykah, and Solange— complete the cover girl trifecta of the May 2014 issue of ESSENCE, the mag’s annual Beauty issue.

She’s known for her headful of amazing dreadlocks, but Ledisi is quick to let ESSENCE know that she doesn’t take her hair too seriously:

“I experiment a lot, dyeing it and constantly switching styles to grab attention. My hair is one of my best accessories and changing it helps express who I am.”

Erykah Badu has been doing her own damn style thing since the day she entered the entertainment scene. Afro wigs, a shaved head, gold lipstick, red lipstick, six inch heels, sneakers…Erykah has worn it all.

Considering her soulful vibe and creative energy, it’s no surprise Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci found a muse in Erykah, saying she was one of the inspirations behind his Spring 2014 Givenchy Collection.

With her high fashion status officially certified, Erykah tells ESSENCE that her hair and style are about more than just looks:

“I view my hair and clothes as functional art. I’m my own stylist and I love it, but I am not trying to make a statement.”

Solange is another who constantly switches up her look. Her natural fro has become something of a signature look, but she’s just as quick to wear waist-length box braids, Senegalese twists, or to even straighten her hair on occasion.

She makes it clear to ESSENCE that her eclectic style is no accident. It’s a definite choice:

“We all have the option of how we want to express ourselves through our life, hair, style or whatever we decide. We shouldn’t be pigeonholed into any one category.”

Each of the ladies ESSENCE chose to front their beauty issue have their own distinct looks and styles, but a common thread is that they all are secure in their fashion choices, dressing for themselves and not for others.

[ photos & quotes: Essence ]