“The world is mine / when I wake up / I don’t need nobody telling me the time” Certainly, Baduizms

Rewind ten years. Music is in a state of crisis. Commercial considerations take precedence over creative credibility, producing a rash of carbon copy R&B clones. Rap wars consume the media as MCs become locked in a battle of bravado between East Coast and West Coast, resulting in the murders of two of the genres most prominent soldiers. With the exception of a young Virginia native (D’Angelo) and his New York counterpart (Maxwell) the malaise on the music scene is enough to make real music fans head for the underground. Then came Erykah during a time were a sister had to be all about the bling and the booty in order to make a mark on the mainstream. But with her distinctive mix of spirit, spirituality and street smarts, Ms. Badu broke the mold. From the get-go it was all about the music and the message. When she emerged on the scene in 1997 with a quietly arresting collection of songs that spoke to the hip-hop head as well as the soul, it quickly became clear that this was an artist of substance for the long-term. With her towering headwraps, striking stage presence and artistic integrity, she seeped in to the collective consciousness lyric by lyric, championing an uncompromising Afrocentric philosophy that the masses could appreciate. For over a decade E. Badu has intoned us with her words of wisdom on wax. Now she’s back to give us another timely dose of musical realness. So kick back, burn that incense and listen in as we’re treated to an audience with a woman who has consistently been the oracle of truth in a saccharine industry.

Q: Where are you right at this moment – and what are you doing?
I am in the studio where I’ve been for the past few weeks… living, eating, sleeping, and breathing my music.

Q: Your new disc is being labeled as a “comeback.” Does it feel like you’ve been gone?
I don’t feel like I’ve been “gone”. I’ve been touring. I’m a touring artist that does a little recording on the side. Besides touring, I’ve been doing other projects, including the albums that I plan to release this year.

Q: How have your difference experiences between albums influenced this project?
When I’m on stage, I’m acting, singing, hurting, etc. All the art in me comes out. That’s my canvas. I’m the freest artist I can be. I may not be the best artist, just free. I’m being as me as I can be. Live performances allow me to “create” a moment; the recording process is where I “perfect” a moment.

Q: Tell us about your new album, “New Amerykah.”
First of all, I’m a hip-hop head. For this album, I went deep into the bottom of my hip-hop purse to pull out some of the most creative, scientific, mathematical producers that I could find because that’s what I was feeling at the time. I started to dabble in quantum physics because I wanted to really participate in the changing of frequencies in different areas of music. This whole project is a platform for some of these producers. It features tracks by various underground hip-hop producers who all have a reputation for being visionaries. I felt like it was time to put together a project that not only takes listeners to another dimension but also highlights these amazing scientists.

Q: Tell me about the “Pink Wax” album for DJs.
This time I wanted to do something especially for the DJs so we’ve released a special 12-inch pink wax of two songs that I thought should be heard in clubs. The first song, “Real Thing”, features a Madlib track that was banging so hard that we decided to start a “Real Thing” Campaign. We sent out instrumental and a cappella versions of the song so that DJs, producers and fans can do their own remixes. On the other side of Pink Wax is a song called “The Healer.” It sets the tone of the project and I really want people to pay attention to this song. “The Healer” points out that all over the world, we don’t do anything together – we don’t pray together, we don’t eat together, we don’t worship together, we don’t learn together, we don’t agree. But everybody nods their head to the same beat and that gives me the impression that hip-hop is bigger than religion, politics and the government. I think it’s the healer of this world.

14610197clutchmag126200825307am.jpgQ: Why did you choose “Honey” as the first single? What influenced the song’s slinky musical groove?
We rolled with “Honey” because of its appeal. It’s fun and it feels good. My label president is Motown’s Sylvia Rhone. She comes from a marketing background and she has a good understanding what’s good or what’s not. I just try to make everything good so that whatever they chose, it’s fine with me. “Honey” is about a lover who I’m chasing by the name of Slim who I think is “so sweet that sugar gotta long way to catch him”. It’s nostalgic and it has a nice, funky, old school sound.

Q: What kept you busy during the break between this new album and 2003’s “Worldwide Underground”?
I’ve been producing. I produced a beautiful baby and I’ve created what I hope my fan will feel is some powerful music. I also started a label called Control Freaq Records. The ideal is to control the “frequency” of music. How it’s heard, when it’s heard, who hears it, and from whom it comes from. And that’s what Freaq is about – recalibrating and re-measuring the frequency of the music to get more positive message to the audiences. This label was also designed for artists who are pretty much established and who have created an audience for themselves on the internet. Our motto is “Freeing the Slaves and the Slaves Masters”. I’m talking about freeing up the master tapes that we, as artists, have to hand over to the label that we never own again. This message and this music belong to the artists.

Q: How has motherhood informed/changed/shaped you and your music?
In the past, I did things in my own time, own speed and in my own way. When you have other people that you are responsible for, you have to create more options for yourself. My children motivate me to move and to be a good example of me . . . to be the best me I can be. As far as my music? It’s still me. I’m not saying anything differently; I’m just saying it at a higher frequency. As I’ve grown, my music has grown. It’s like higher vibrations, without the same mistakes.

Q: Which one of your past hits is particularly special to you and why?
“Call Tyrone”—it was a song I literally made up on stage in London in 1997. It was a spontaneous thing. Later, I looked around and saw they were having debates about it on TV and radio. They said I was male bashing. I had no idea that it would have such an impact. I was just making it up as I was going along. As the song blew up, I realized that I had to take some kind of stance. I began to challenge all the “Tyrones” to do better. The song “Call Tyrone” did its job musically and socially. Women loved it because that’s how they felt and men hated it because that’s how they were. As a result, it became an anthem. I’m not apologetic for “Call Tyrone.” It’s the jam and I love it. It’s one of my favorite songs to perform on stage and it’s still hilarious to me. On this particular album, I took my time. I’m writing and I’m more deliberate about what I’m saying. This is no “Call Tyrone” party . . . this project is totally different.

Q: Music has changed since the heralded days of “Baduizm”. Do you hear anything new that excites you?
Music has changed, the industry has changed and the marketing of music has changed, especially with the internet. I guess I’m most excited about music that I hear coming from many of the producers that I chose to work with on this CD. They are paving the path for what hip-hop will become. When “Baduizm” came out, it changed radio formats. It allowed other artists and more unique sounds to come through. We need to expose some of these “other” frequencies of music to mainstream radio. With “New Amerykah,” I went to the trenches and grabbed cats that eat, sleep and breathe music. It’s time for the world to hear their science.

Q: How is the analog girl surviving in this digital world?
I was a late bloomer as far as technology was concerned. But, once I got into it, it was very easy for me to understand what was going on. In fact, this whole project was produced on my laptop with music software. In the digital world, I communicate with fans everyday. I can push a button and be in Japan, Antarctica, Amsterdam, Houston, and Tennessee in one moment. It’s very important that I keep that communication open and be hands-on online.

New Amerykah is out on February 26.

{Photo Credits: Bode Helm & Wire Image}

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