Q&A: ERYKAH BADU
NEO-SOUL SINGER FINALLY RELEASES HER FOURTH ALBUM, AND GETS CAUGHT UP IN A WAR WITH HERSELF
By JOSEPH BARRACATO
February 24, 2008 — FOR HER 36th BIRTHDAY, Erykah Badu plans to go to war. She’ll engage herself in a battle for the human soul this Tuesday, when she issues “New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War),” a record she sees as a declaration of her own struggle to understand herself.
For her fourth studio album, the multiple Grammy winner recruited production help from Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of the Roots, Shafiq Husayn of SA-RA and Madlib, as well as singer Bilal and Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. The Dallas native, who still resides in the Lone Star State, plans to complete her visit to the trenches with “New Amerykah: Part Two (Return of the Young),” on which she’s putting the final touches.
People see the word “war” and immediately think about Iraq and politics. but you’re talking about a totally different kind of war, aren’t you?
It’s about the war against self. I watch everything going on around me and give my testimony of what I see on this album. There is always a fight going on against your inner being. You have to fight yourself to be a stronger and better person.
It’s close to five years since your last effort. what took you so long?
I’ve always taken my time between albums. I’m a performing artist – recording is secondary to me. My performances are what drive me. It’s like my therapy. I like to write a lot while I’m on the road before I even think about recording. For this album I had a flood of ideas. I had to choose from over 60 songs.
Hence the sequel. What can we expect from “Part Two” and when will it drop?
The second album will be a lot more emotional, and a lot more heartfelt. The second one is my reaction to the first. It’s a result of the battle. “Part One” is more like brain music. More of a testimony of what I see going on around me. Part Two will be out sometime this summer.
One new track, “The Healer (Hip Hop),” almost sound like a prayer. Is it?
It’s about all the gods – Allah, Jehova, Yaweh, Jah and many others. There are so many ways to worship no matter what religion you are. And to me, hip-hop is felt in all religions – it has a healing power. I’ve recently been to Palestine, Jerusalem, Africa and a bunch of other places, and everyone is listening to hip-hop. There’s something about that kicking snare sound that all kinds of people find meaning in.
Besides ?uestlove, most of your collaborators on the first installment have a low profile. How did you choose them?
Back in 2004 I bought at laptop, and ?uestlove from the Roots put me on a buddy list with all of the independent producers. People I didn’t know started sending me MP3s. I always keep my ear to the streets and that’s how I found out about people like Shafiq [Husayn] and Madlib. As for Omar [Rodriguez-Lopez of the Mars Volta], I went to one of his band’s shows and loved it. I asked him to come in and listen to some of my tracks and he wanted to be a part of it.
Personally, I’m upset you didn’t hook up with the Wu-Tang Clan again.
I certainly thought about it, but the timing was off. It was a wonderful experience working with them on “The Heart Gently Weeps” for their last album. The RZA has an unbelievable vision. [Laughs] And he loves raggedy-ass vocals. I mean it took one take to do my part. I was like I’m just warming up and he was like it’s a wrap. I definitely want to do something with the entire group soon.
“Over the course of my career I thought I suffered from writer’s block. But then I realized I only want to record an album when I have something relevant enough to say.”
I put the movie “Koyaanisqatsi” in my purse and carry it with me everywhere I go so I can show others. Its meaning is ‘life out of balance.’ It’s a film all about images. There’s one where this guy filmed people going up and down on an escalator all day. It’s all about watching life. I love it.
I really got into surfing about four years ago. I have a few boogie boards and a couple of banana boards. I love escaping to Hawaii for a short trip and riding. I also was able to recently on a trip to Israel. Another activity I’ve been doing for a while is skateboarding.
I’m not really into showers.
I prefer bubble baths. The main reason is I don’t like to get my hair wet. People wonder what I put in it, but the answer is nothing – honestly. And the one thing I love putting on after a bath is [Jergens] Shea Butter. I use that stuff all over my body – arms, legs and feet. It’s the best.
I’m all about holistic health and healing. I just became a second-degree Reiki doctor. I can heal people’s bodies with my palms. I study and perform things like reflexology. I grow my own herbs and practice aromatherapy.
I’m currently reading “The Physics of Love: The Ultimate Universal Laws.”
It’s about how things attract each other whether its people, music, frequencies, viruses – whatever. It has a few authors, including John Keely. I can’t put it down.