Hours before Erykah Badu hops onstage for a performance with My Morning Jacket at the regal, Baroque Louisville Palace theatre, Life + Times finds the Neo-soul pioneer in a chatty mood backstage.
Later in the evening, her image will be broadcast to millions as part of VEVO and American Express’ unique “UNSTAGED” series, in which performers are paired with acclaimed filmmakers—in this case, Oscar-nominated director Todd Haynes, who follows past collaborations such as John Legend, The Roots, and Spike Lee—for an unscripted, live-streaming experience.
Though here, with only her dressing-room mirror to impress, Ms. Badu is exquisite in appearance—her arms and hands are covered with jewelry, a mix of both precious metals, plastics, and plane pendants, and her voluminous ‘fro is straightened down far past her shoulders, calling attention to her piercing eyes.
And yet, like a well-worn traveler, her clothes are weathered, her jeans even tattered. Those travels—her last album, 2010’s New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), her videography as a director, her inspirations—are the topics of conversation. And when asked as to how the My Morning Jacket collaboration came about, she credits an unspoken unity—being part of the same “tribe,” she says. When asked to explain, she ascribes that unity to a common dislike—of showering. Erykah being… well, you know.
L+T: How’s your non-profit organization B.L.I.N.D. coming along?
Erykah Badu: It’s great. It’s good. You know, our agenda changes every year depending on what the city’s [Erykah’s hometown of Dallas] need is. Right now, we’re doing a DJ camp and a production camp. We’re teaching youth from age 14 to 18 how to use Serato.
L+T: Very cool.
EB: Yeah. And the same age group is learning to use the [Akai] MPC-3000.
L+T: Talk to me a little about your jewelry—the planes.
EB: My jewelry, the planes—it’s the “FLY” line. After I did “Window Seat,” I saw these planes by my girl friend Melody Ehsani. She makes a lot of my stuff, and this is one of the freshest things I’ve seen her do. And we’re doing a line together called “Mothership.” And some of my other pieces came from a street vendor from New Orleans, Dr. Foots.
L+T: So, do you tend to pick up jewelry from your travels? You don’t go to Harry Winston—that kind of thing?
EB: No, I’ve never done that. I just got different taste. There’s nothing wrong with that. I just like these hand-made things.
L+T: What’s your pre-show ritual? What do you do? Do you just mellow out?
EB: It depends. What you have to understand is that I’m a performance artist, 14 years, eight months out of a year. And I make a record when I can. And so, I make a bulk of my money, you know, performing and creating onstage. It’s therapy for me, so the ritual is onstage more than before. It’s therapy. I just look forward to it. I just make sure I’m clean in my heart before I go up there. You know what I mean?