LIVING IN FREQUENCIES
It is always refreshing to talk with Erykah Badu and hear her articulate her vision of life and passing thoughts. While some artists are only known for mastering one side of their art, Erica Abi Wright is the personification of full-blown artistry. Immersed in the worlds of deejaying, fashion and many other cre- ative pursuits, the recording artist/record producer/actress celebrates this year 20 years of presence on the scene. Fresh off the Rock The Bells festival where she performed her first album “Baduizm” from top to bottom, The WILD Magazine had the privilege to speak with Ms. Badu about her experience at the festival, her career, music, artistry and of course other visionaries.
Photo by Paige Parson
Where are you today?
I’m in Dallas and it’s a beautiful day. I live mostly here because my family lives here, but I have an apartment in Brooklyn that I got early in my career, in 1997. I still keep it to make sure that when I go work I can be comfortable because I record at the Electric Lady Studio in Manhattan. I also have a lot of friends there so I keep it.
You just got back from Rock The Bells. How was it?
It was beautiful. Hip-hop royalty. I was so honored because I was the only non-rapper in the festival and they recognized the b-girl in me and I appreciate that.
I read that your expectations were not matched during the first date. Did you live up to them the following dates?
I didn’t write “Baduizm” with the thought of performing it live from top to bottom. I didn’t know what to expect actually but after looking back at it I think it was perfect. It was what it was supposed to be and as long as the people connect I think the mission is accomplished.
In a previous interview, you stated that your audience’s demographic is around 30 years old…
Yeah but I think I’m a little off on that because I’ve seen that I have fans from ages 15 to 80. I was mistaken. The demographics are wide. I underestimated that.
Do you think that one of your albums fits more for the live performance and if yes, why?
I would say my most recent material because that’s where I live right now. When I perform, I do that for my therapy and for my sanity and generally, if I’m expressing the things that are immediate, I grow out more. However, I’m able to connect with the other music as well very much as long as the audience and me become one living breathing organism. I think it’s always good. Once we getting started, it doesn’t matter which song I sing, it’s just that I’m in a place where I’m expressing and the audience is receiving.
Are you the type of artist who listens back to his/her previous music or do you only look forward?
I do both. I love my music because it fits my taste, [laughs]. The musicians who perform with me always bring something amazing and timeless to it and it’s always good to listen back. I enjoy it.
Is there a particular track on your last album that you keep playing on repeat?
I like to listen to my albums from top to bottom. I don’t have 99 cent singles. I have projects. I have albums that tell stories and I like to listen to them because it reminds me of the things that I had and that I’ve gone through and [am still] going through. My perspective of the world helps me evolve even more because it constantly changes.
You’ve been said to be in the studio with Flying Lotus. How did the connection happen? What can we expect from it?
I am working with Flying Lotus on a project right now. We are creating and seeing what can happen. We come from two different worlds of frequency and sound. We’re both very interested to see what happens.
I love Los Angeles musicians for their creativity and their freeness. I go to L.A. a lot. Flying Lotus and I actually met on Myspace, some five or six years ago and we were exchanging music, thoughts and ideas. I was recording Rick Ross’ songs for Maybach Music and he came up to the studio where I was, played me his new stuff and we just kept in touch and kept connecting. It was just very natural for us to want to do something together. The first thing we did together was a visual for my song “Don’t Belong.” He directed it. We just fit well together.
It’s funny that you said he directed a video because you are known for directing and writing the treatment of your own videos.
It’s beautiful because I’ve directed all of my own videos and this is the first one I haven’t put a creative thought into. It’s a surrender of swords. I trusted him and when I can actually do that it’s such a comfort to me because I know that his mind works in a different way than mine and he adds a whole new aspect to the song. Generally, I direct the videos because when I write the songs, I already have in mind what I see and what I want to see. He came to me and asked me if he could just do a video for me and I showed up in front of the studio and just performed the song and he did the rest.
Did it give you a new perspective and make you want to work with other video directors?
Oh yeah! Definitely! I think I’m evolving in that way.
This project can be seen as a collaborative effort, but what about a new solo project?
I don’t know what’s happening with that. I’m a songwriter, so I need to have something to say and I’m actually living and procrastinating right now. I have so many ideas. I’m scattered in so many directions. Generally when it happens, it’s like labor, something that is going to be born and be amazing to me. I’m just living right now and waiting to see what happens.
Would you say that life is your principal source of inspiration?
Yes, it is because it is therapy for me to express what I see.
You travel a lot and are often on tour. I know that you have this ritual where you meet with your audience and build with it right after your show. Does it give you a new perspective and do you try to improve your life and the one of your country when you go back home?
Yes, in my own way. My take on changing the world is simply changing oneself. I’m in the world so if I’m changing myself, I’m changing the world. My platform is my music, my frequency and my voice. That’s all that I can do.
I also read that you have opened a DJ program camp for inner city youth.
I have a non-profit organization called B.L.I.N.D. (Beautiful Love Incorporated Non-profit Development). As a youth, I came from a pretty violent, dilapidated, imprisoned community and art was my escape. When people would come to my community center, I was able to travel all over the world by learning from these different people without even leaving the place. These different artists volunteering their time to come and teach us and give us experiences and examples and choices inspired me to create this organization. The agenda is to bring art into the community so that people are able to feel themselves completely without being distracted by what’s going on outside of themselves. That’s where change starts for me.
This is “The Visionary Issue” of The WILD magazine. What does the term visionary means to you?
I imagine that it means someone who is faithful to him or herself. One who follows his or her heart and reasons within to find answers and share them with others.
Who are some of the visionaries that you admire?
Yoko Ono is one of the visionaries I truly admire. The most absurd and beautiful thing she can think of, she manifests. My video “Window Seat” was inspired by artists like Yoko, but also by Josephine Baker and Nina Simone, who were very strong visionaries as well. They were called “perform artists” and in performance art, the artist takes something out of his or her mind and implants it into society by introducing a shocking act that introduces dialog. The dialog doesn’t have to agree or disagree with what the artist does, but it causes the individual to think beyond their normal circumstances.
Would you say that the shock value is mandatory in order to create a dialog?
When I’m doing performance art; yes. But other than that, my only job is to be honest.
Would you consider yourself a visionary?
By definition? Perhaps.
You are labeled as “the Queen of Neo-Soul.” I remember reading that you were not really happy about it.
It’s not that I don’t like it. It’s an honor to be noted for creating something as an artist, that is one of our ultimate goals. The only thing that I don’t agree with is labeling my music because I don’t have one song that sounds like another. Each one is a different experience, a different thought, a different piece of music, a different frequency and a different world. When labeled, it causes the masses to expect something from you. Sometimes it makes you expect something from yourself and it’s very unrealistic since we are all evolving. The only doubtful thing is that it causes one to be in a penitentiary of thoughts. I understand labeling, especially music, because the industry needs to create a way to sell it. Categorizing makes it a lot easier to sell. It is what it is and I am whatever people call me. It doesn’t matter because once I write something or do a dance, a song or a piece of art it no longer belongs to me, it belongs to the world.
Do you have any last words to end this interview?
As an artist there are many categories. As I’m also a mid-wife, I deliver babies, that’s an art, I’m also a DJ and a stylist, I love designing and developing looks. I grow herbs, watch them come from the Earth and use them to heal my family and people when needed, that is an art. When I need to get my point across, I bullshit, that is an art, [laughs]. Art is my life! My division is art and art has many layers. People can pull back one or many and it doesn’t belong to me once it’s out of me and I’m very pleased to have a platform that helps me express myself. I really don’t understand what you are trying to say or ask here... Performance?