Erykah Badu: June/July Cover Story
ARTS & CRAFT
ERYKAH BADU’S BIRTHDAY SUIT PERFORMANCE FOR “WINDOW SEAT” WASN’T DONE IN THE NAME OF RECORD SALES. SHE WAS SELLING ART. CAN A PRUDISH MAINSTREAM AMERICA EVER BUY INTO THAT?
Words: Chloé A. Hilliard I Photography: Erin Patrice O'Brien
THERE IS NO fence or security guard protecting Erykah Badu and her children from the outside world. There is no long driveway from the street to her front door. If not for the high bushes, her front yard—with a worn playground set, clothing line adorned with purple and pink ribbons and a trampoline—would be completely visible to any passerby.
Reminiscent of an artist commune, Badu’s modest home sits amidst a White upper-class suburb in Dallas. The breeze from a nearby lake spins the chimes that hang from her balcony. Exterior speakers pump out drum-heavy tribal music. She calls the abode her “tree house,” a respite from the world, where she can create, paint and parent.
Badu is portioning out berries for her two eldest children to eat under an umbrella on the front lawn. She has on an apple green robe, loosely tied, hanging off her shoulders, revealing a red bra. Her curly ‘fro is contained by a faint yellow scarf that hangs down to her buttocks. She lifts her hand to shield her eyes from the beaming sun.
New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) is the latest exhibition from the Erykah Badu art collection that has been ongoing for 39 years. It’s an installment that will continue this summer when she hits the road with her Out My Mind tour. There is no part of the Badu experience that doesn’t stem from the mind of this woman. She writes treatments for, directs and edits all her videos. And her work is in high demand: 10 years in the business, four Grammy Awards, more than 7 million albums sold, criss-crossing the planet to perform before sold-out crowds.
With that much work going into it, she hasn’t made any excuses or apologies for her latest piece. In her mind, the decision to plead not guilty to the disorderly conduct citation that came with a $500 fine was a no-brainer. “If I get a speeding ticket, I plead not guilty, hoping the cop won’t show up,” she says.
The world’s interest in the woman, who debuted in 1997 with a sky-high head wrap, holding incense in her teeth and an affinity for tea, hit an apex after she disrobed on the streets of Dallas for the sake of her art. She’s also a businesswoman who realizes that the days of selling three million albums off a single release are long gone. However, completely disrobing in a music video for the first single of your fifth studio album is definitely a powerful way to announce your return. While many are attempting to dissect Badu, the mother/singer/producer/actress/director is already thinking about her next project. Whatever it is, she’s sure her actions will more than likely be misunderstood.
"I am not a feminist. I am not a Black liberalist, Republican, Democrat. I am not anything. I’m human." -- Erykah Badu
VIBE: Do you think that one song, “Window Seat,” and its video encapsulates the Erykah experience?
Erykah Badu: Because we’re in the Age of Aquarius, or technology, [people] get a chance to research. You don’t have to be as funky as your last hit no more. People can look for it. But it probably would be a staple for someone new. It was really not a lot to it so they’ll forget about it one day.
After the video debuted on your site, you were very vocal on Twitter explaining the definition for “group think,” the phrase that oozed from your head after you were assassinated at the end of clip.
But I wasn’t explaining anything about the video. My intent was to point out that that’s the dialogue I wanted to create to bring the attention to that, to make people aware of it because it’s such a big thing in school-age children and then people in the workplace and then people of the church and older folks. It’s like you don’t want to be who you are because you’re afraid to be assassinated. So that’s a big thing to me. I thought about that a lot. I thought about what I was doing. It wasn’t just something to do or a publicity stunt to sell records cause guess what; I don’t make money from selling records. I make money selling my shows all over the world and I have never needed help doing that. So I put that video out on my site.
It was your intent to bring a message, but it wasn’t your intent to be a role model.
There are a lot of things that I do. There are millions of people who have Ankhs tattooed on their body, or wear a head wrap or do all those things. You never have that intent now. You never know what is gonna happen. I put that out on my website. I didn’t know I was gon’ be on CNN on Monday, but when you do something responsible, you always have the understanding that people are going to be encouraged by it, and learn from it.
After addressing the social issue “group think,” are you worried that people will continue to expect some political or social commentary from you?
No, because I am not a feminist. I am not a Black liberalist, Republican, Democrat. I am not anything. I’m human. I support things that have good intent and that I feel I vibrate with, that I resonate with.
Do you think the controversy surrounding “Window Seat” will leave a negative stamp on your career?
That was nothing.
Are you saying that “Window Seat” is tame compared to what you have in store?
It don’t matter what I do. It’s just how it goes, no matter what I do.
So you see that as . . .
This is only the beginning