“The idea of art is to create dialogue.” Erykah Badu has worked 15-plus years to create the kind of dialogue she speaks of. Having always considered herself more than a vocalist, her art has come in the form of music, activism, visual creations and even motherhood. Badu spoke in front of the Red Bull Music Academy with the intention of once again creating dialogue as she recapped what has been a storied career to date.
Growing up in home where the bathroom radio played 24/7, music was considered the mainstream in her life. Referring to herself as a “child of funk”, Badu touched on every aspect of her career that began in 1997 with the release of “On & On” off her debut album, Baduizm. Badu credits that year to being the best of her career as the album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts. It was then that she became a pioneer for a new genre in music known as neo soul.
“People were excited about labels like somehow the label explains the whole thing,” Badu laughed.
But no label could even begin to be placed on the movement that Badu helped usher in. Once the word “leader” began to be thrown around, Badu was quick to give credit to long-time collaborators J Dilla and The Roots. She explained how J Dilla played a large role in the producer and DJ she is known to be today, spending numerous hours teaching her how to cut and loop music. It was the two’s collaborating efforts that berthed Mama’s Gun which led to infamous “Frustrated Artist Tour.” While many thought she was suffering from writer’s block during that period, Badu explained it more as just a time of allowing things to download and waiting to experience something.
Since 1997, Badu has six albums to her name. She described a career in the music industry as a marathon, not a sprint, being in no hurry to enter into some kind of race. She stressed to the auditorium filled with some of her biggest fans that her goal as an artist was to put out pieces of work that were honest, noting that motherhood has taught her music is something she must nurture and mold.
Now at age 47, Badu feels as though she is just getting started. The self-described “analog girl” has struggled to transition into the digital age, saying Twitter was her first step. The music industry has seen its share of changes since Badu’s career began, something she is not exactly thrilled about.
“I do not like the idea of the 99-cent song. It destroys the total package of an album.”
Badu’s career has transformed into more than that of just a normal singer. She now plays the role of DJ Lo Down Loretta Brown and she is currently training to become midwife. Music is still at the forefront of everything she does. She recently collaborated with Janelle Monae on the singer’s new single, “QUEEN.” She also hinted that the Soulquarians would be reuniting sooner rather than later.
Badu ended her talk at the Brooklyn Museum with one of her biggest life lessons, “Be honest in yourself and you’re art. Don’t live anyone else’s dream.” Badu has certainly lived up to every bit of that statement.