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Monday, March 29, 2010

Badu Bares All for "Window Seat"

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Erykah Badu bares her booty in the name of art? What have we here?

At the stroke of 3:33 on Saturday, débuted “Window Seat,” a clip for the midtempo first single to New Amerykah Pt.2: Return of the Ankh, out this week. Acknowledging its inspiration from “Matt and Kim” (more on them later) in its opening frame, director Kareem Johnson then begins “Window Seat” with Badu parking her Lincoln Continental on St. Patrick’s Day, somewhere near Dealey Plaza in Dallas: the infamous “grassy knoll” where JFK was assassinated.

We hear the famous KBOX live radio announcement from November 22, 1963, moments before President Kennedy was killed: “The president’s car is now turning onto Elm Street, and it will be only a matter of minutes before he arrives at the TradeMart. I was on Stemmons Freeway earlier, and even the freeway was jam-packed with spectators waiting their chance to see the president as he made his way toward the TradeMart.”

Badu pays her meter as the song begins, walking slowly but assuredly down the street. Then she starts to undress. First her shades, then her jacket, shoes, purple hoodie. Then she crosses the street and strips her shirt, revealing a black bra and an EVOLVING tattoo across her back. Then the pants go, Badu strolling in bra and panties. She’s thick, but she told you that. (See “Booty.”) Then the bra goes. Then, the panties. And Badu takes a few more strides completely naked, bystanders relatively tame about the whole thing. Then, a bang.

Badu falls to the ground, blue blood spilling out of her head spelling GROUPTHINK. For those of us a little slower on the uptake, we get this voiceover:

“They play it safe. Are quick to assassinate what they do not understand. They move in packs, ingesting more and more fear with every act of hate on one another. They feel most comfortable in groups, less guilt to swallow. They are us. This is what we have become. Afraid to respect the individual. A single person within a circumstance can move one to change, to love our Self, to evolve.”

Beat that, Lady Gaga! Twitter immediately blew up, followed by Facebook once “Window Seat” got uploaded to YouTube. Using Twitter herself—she’s @fatbellybella—Erykah vowed to follow the first 100 Twitter users with dope definitions of groupthink (first defined by journalist William H. Whyte in a 1952 Fortune magazine).

Less than an hour ago, Erykah started explaining herself a little. She told her kids what she was about to do before the shoot; discussed it with her moms; checked her panties before stripping off her sweats because she “didn’t remember what kind of undies i wore that day.”

But what does it all mean?

You tell me, I wanna hear from you.

To me, it’s not that heavy. I mean, what could it mean? We generally make these things deeper than they have to be. On my first viewing, I saw it as the death of selling ass as a way to sell units. (Lady Gaga gets a lil naked too in her (yes, fabulous) new video, “Telephone.”) Along with that, a healthy dose of food for thought about groupthink. Which is mob mentality. Which most of us know all about already, but might school the young’uns a little, once (if?) they get beyond the shock of Badu’s ass.

See for yourself:

Then, for extra credit, peep the excellent 2009 video clip that Erykah admitted “inspired” it, Matt & Kim’s “Lessons Learned”:

Monday, June 30, 2008

Badu Live in Paris!

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Just the facts, ma’am. Last night: Erykah Badu at the Palais des Congrès. Awesome… though I’ve seen the analog girl at least seven times live (the last: Jones Beach 2005 w/Jill Scott and Queen Latifah) and it wasn’t my absolute favorite set. But, very New Amerykah heavy, very funky, very 90 minutes late. Went a lil’ something like this.

The six-man band jammed for ten minutes alone before her entrance, doing solos off of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon.” Chesty backup singers Keisha Renée Williams and Eugenia Bess began chanting “hold on, my people” as Erykah emerged from stage left. With her striking poses at the microphone, the band cranked up “Amerykahn Promise” (derived from the old Roy Ayers Music Project tune, “The American Promise”) and funked out until segueing into “The Healer/Hiphop.” She’d brought out two tuning forks – they make vibrations, no? – and clinked them together at the appropriate moment in the song, but the mic didn’t pick up the space/time continuum rift that one might’ve expected to hear. A few songs later, she brought out an African drum under her arm to bang, bringing in the chant/song “My People.”

I could go song by song, but I’ll put the track listing below. Instead, the highlights. For a few tours now (and this one is officially The Vortex Tour), Erykah has been playing a beat machine onstage that’s sort of like a sophisticated Japanese-engineered version of banging on a lunchroom table to produce hiphop boom-bap beats, but it’s also capable of making space-age atmospheric effects. So at one point, she got the electrofunk beat to Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” going, which the band picked up, and performed “Apple Tree” over it. She similarly merged the music to Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” to the end of Worldwide Underground‘s “I Want You,” and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum” in-between “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hiphop)” and “A.D. 2000” from Mama’s Gun. Badu turned her back to the audience at one point and gave drummer Raphael Iglehart what I’m sure was a deadly look for missing his cue.

Other little musical borrowings made the night interesting; the sold-out audience was also treated to James Brown’s “The Payback” at the end of the night, somewhere between “Tyrone” and “Bag Lady.” Same with the beat to “Top Billin’” bringing on “On & On.” And the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” appeared as a petite encore with Common’s “The Light,” and thousands of Parisians waved their cellies in the air from side to side with the house lights down. The only notable Baduizm of the night might’ve been her explanation of vortices, how Paris was located nearby a (presumably spiritual) vortex, and that areas near such vortices produce greater creativity. Knowing Badu, she kept it light considering the language barrier. She jumped into the audience (protected by her security) at one point, cavorting with fans real friendly-like. Then she broke out for the next tour stop in London, leaving us with some prerecorded crunk to dance ourselves out. Now, the track listing:

  1. “Chameleon”
  2. “Amerykahn Promise”
  3. “The Healer/Hiphop”
  4. “Me”
  5. “My People”
  6. “Twinkle”
  7. “On & On”
  8. “… & On”
  9. “Apple Tree”
  10. “I Want You”
  11. “Otherside of the Game”
  12. “Danger”
  13. “A.D. 2000”
  14. “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hiphop)”
  15. “Tyrone”
  16. “Bag Lady”

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Edith Funker Fun Facts

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Spoke to Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson last Thursday via cellphone, and asked him all about Rising Down, the next record from the almighty Roots crew. And but so before we got into that, I made sure to bleed dry all info on the Edith Funker project first. (For the one person out there who’s never seen the trailblazing All in the Family sitcom from the 70s (when sitcoms were sitcoms), the matriarch of the family was named Edith Bunker). I didn’t get much, but here’s what I got:

  • The name Edith Funker comes, obviously, from Edith Bunker (like Gnarls Barkley/Charles Barkley), but it was coined by actress Rashida Jones, daughter of Quincy and Peggy Lipton. The group was originally named Funk Sway. (As in feng shui.)
  • The Roots’ live shows are booked all the way up till November, so an Edith Funker album coming in the fourth quarter is unlikely/ impossible.
  • Erykah Badu has been talking to Starbucks about the possibility of a couple of things, one of which might could be releasing an Edith Funker album.
  • The band performed just last month at the SXSW festival in Austin, and according to Ahmir, that live show could stand as an album as far as he’s concerned.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

More Edith Funker

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A simple Google search reveals that Edith Funker may possibly drop an album in the fourth quarter of 2008 through a deal with Starbucks (like last year’s Memory Almost Full from Sir Paul McCartney, I imagine). Also, Erykah Badu has been performing the Edith Funker song “Annie” (as in, “Annie/ Don’t wear no panties”) all over the place lately, a song that may end up on Lowdown Loretta Brown, part 3 to her New Amerykah trilogy this year. Here’s the analog girl doin’ “Annie” on VH1’s SoulStage. (And the viewer won’t let me watch from outside the US…) They’ve already supposedly recorded two albums in two weeks!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Me and Badu: The Secret Connection

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Music journalists sometimes get identified over time with certain subjects (i.e., Raquel Cepeda with Common, or Kevin Powell with 2Pac) and I think if this ever applied to me, then it’s Erykah Badu. I wrote the first published interview with Erykah in The Source the summer before her début smash Baduizm came out; editor-in-chief Adario Strange gave her a break because they’d gone to high school together in Dallas. My first assignment for Rolling Stone was reviewing Baduizm; I was the rare hiphop writer to get put on by RS before Vibe. And I’ve covered her a few times since: a cover story for Russell Simmons’s Oneworld, a concert review for Russell’s long-gone Her latest, New Amerykah Pt. 1 (4th World War), is the first great album of 2008 and I said my piece recently in The Village Voice here. But I’d met Erykah even before that Source jawn introduced her to the world.

Like a lot of next-gen scribblers, I moved to Brooklyn in 1996, my first New York City apartment, to Clinton Hill two streets from where Biggie Smalls grew up. My closest homeboy at the time (late of Morris Brown College in the ATL), Mark Darkfeather, was living blocks away in Fort Greene, in a spacious loft with about four other people. One of the people was a Clark-Atlanta University grad named Shani, sister to an aspiring Dallas singer with a huge Afro named N’Dambi. No sooner had I read about a neo-soul signee to record exec Kedar Massenberg’s new label in Billboard than she walked through the door to borrow a cup of sugar from her buddies Shani and N’Dambi, so to speak.

We were all glad for this Texan transplant to get her shine once her album was done, watching her perform at Mark Darkfeather’s Crash House, at the old Brooklyn Tea Party, and other local spots over homegrown DATs. (Quietly, the Brooklyn Moon café on Fulton Street in 1996 was like the black boho version of the 1980s Danceteria back in the days. If people like Madonna, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, etc. were trolling the Danceteria before “making it,” the same could be said of Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Saul Williams, N’Bushe Wright, Mums, Sarah Jones and assorted hiphop writers turned authors at the Brooklyn Moon. That’s a book and/or documentary right there.) ?uestlove said something once about everybody Erykah met in Philly falling in love with her for 15 minutes, and that was true of us Brooklynites too under the gaze of those green eyes.

And so anyway, yeah, there was plenty of hanging around that Brooklyn loft, puffing doobies and dancing to Marley’s “No More Trouble” and stuff. One day I needed a pick for my Afro and Erykah started improvising “Afro (Freestyle Skit)” (“Pick yo’ Afro, daddy…”) but I asked her about it later on and, no, I wasn’t the inspiration. But she said I could tell people it was. I recounted most of this in Joel McIver’s Erykah Badu: The First Lady of Neo-Soul, but you know, I ain’t tell him everythang. She’ll be in Paris at the Palais des Congrès on June 28.