A Short Convo With...Erykah Badu (OLD)
Erykah Badu is having a moment. The high priestess of avant-garde soul, who will join such musical heavyweights as Lady Gaga, Green Day, and Phoenix onstage at this year’s Lollapalooza in August, is coming off her acclaimed album New Amerykah, Part Two: Return of the Ankh. And her controversial “Window Seat” video is still sparking debate as she gears up for an upcoming tour. We caught up with the elusive Badu and found out why after nearly 15 years in the business she is still an intriguing figure.—Keith Murphy
VIBE: Is it true that you originally wanted to be a dancer?
Yes. I started at four years old with modeling and at 10-years-old I started ballet and between that time I took jazz dance. And when I got into high school, I went to a Dallas school for performing arts, and I was a dance major from 9th grade to 12th grade. So I danced four hours a day for four years—any kind of dance. I’m a lover of modern dance; I love Martha Graham and Bella Lewitzky. I’m a [Katherine Dunham] student.
During the making of both New Amerykah projects, what did you find out about yourself as an artist?
I’m a loner with it. I’m a control freak in my heart, because I feel there is nothing freaky about controlling one’s own image. I don’t like to look outside of myself for the building of a character or song or costume. Whether my art comes out different or new or not, I know that I’ve at least taken the time and effort to do a creation as if there was a blank canvas. It’s not that my art has never been painted before, but it’s never been painted by me. My aim is to inspire.
You mentioned how the first New Amerykah release was more of a thinking man’s album and very digital while New Amerykah Part II is very emotional and with more live instrumentation. Can you describe the difference in the recording process of both projects?
Well, New Amerykah I is what I call a Pro Tools album. It’s very logical. I primarily used Garage Band on my computer with headphones during the creation of the music. It was almost like singing in the car or singing in the shower [laughs]. You are the center of it all and your creativity is boundless at that point. It just flows out of me. And not just the things that were on New Amerykah Part 1, which were just 10 other songs that were part of how I felt, or what I saw, or what I wanted to report. I’m quite a journalist in my music, in my writing. I believe in making a project or an album and not just a collection of songs. I put together both albums in such a way where the songs had the same vibration, the same frequency, same thoughts, same colors, and smells. I put them together to make albums along with artwork and energy that would invoke the same energy. And I trust the label to put it in the best frame; I’m the artist, they’re the frame makers and we work together very well that way.
You once claimed at the beginning of “Tyrone” that as an artist you are sensitive about your shit. How do you react to the criticism from hardcore fans that have a certain view of what a Badu album should be, specifically on the New Amerykah projects?
Well most people are really dissecting the artist on magazines and blogs because they’re really genuinely interested. It doesn’t sway me one way or the other, no matter what our debate is. It just lets me know that there are people who are very interested and actually listening and absorbing what I’m doing. Although it doesn’t change my direction, it does inspire me to see how people feel. If I couldn’t create and continue to develop I would die.
Is it true that you and D’Angelo were supposed to record a duet album?
Yes, it was something that was talked about. We actually did one song together—“Your Precious Love”—and we hated it [laughs]. But the label put it out anyway. D and I are two totally different artists. The only thing we have in common is we both stick to our guns. I don’t know if we would even blend well together. In fact, after meeting him, I’ve worked on my pitch a great deal and when I told him that he was angry with me [laughs]. He told me, “Don’t do that, you don’t have to do that. Don’t over think anything, just open yourself and do you.” D seems to be genetically encoded with something that touches people in a way. And that’s his job, that’s what he does. He doesn’t have to be the model human being; I don’t think any of us are.