Mic Check: Neo soul icon Erykah Badu celebrates career spanning over 25 years

Badu released her Grammy-winning debut album “Baduizm” in 1997.

Erykah Badu

It’s been nearly three decades since Erykah Badu came along and changed the sound of soul music with her 1997 debut album Baduizm.

The Dallas native blazed onto the scene with elegantly restrained vocals birthed in love, life and empowerment themes painted against a canvas of gorgeous and melodic jazz, soul and hip hop vibes.

I recently chatted with the high priestess of soul in the middle of her recent “Unfollow Me” tour, discussing her latest business venture, how she frames herself musically after nearly 30 years in the industry and more.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

On the genesis and concept of the “Unfollow Me” tour:

Erykah Badu: The “Unfollow Me Tour” is a tongue in cheek way to invite my fans to the show. “Unfollow Me” is a Badu-ism for me. It should encourage you to follow your own path and bring forth your own gifts and own understanding. It’s jokey and a moment to reflect at the same time.

On her co-headlining tour with Yasiin Bey (the artist formerly known as Mos Def):

We have toured before. We have the same kind of energy and intent when performing. We are present in our performance and in our music as well. We share a sonic sound and a metronome. It feels natural, good and right.

On her affiliation with the loosely-based group of musical creatives known as the Soulquarians, who have been at the forefront of the progressive soul and conscious hip hop movements:

We’re still friends. We became friends because of musical similarities and because of our synergy sonically. Once you connect [with people] who vibrate in similar ways to you, it branches into other parts of your life. I have [familial] relationships with various [Soulquarian] members. Some of us lean on each other — being that shoulder for one another. Some of us send memes to make each other laugh, some of us only talk about music. Some of us are super competitive with one another in a brother or sister way. I’m so happy that those connections were made, even if there was never any music ever made. It’s a family.

Badu’s album remembrances through word association:

  • Worldwide Underground (2003) — Tour bus. We recorded the whole album on the tour bus. It was really a “worldwide underground.” Whoever wanted to get on the album in whatever city would get on it. Recording it was antics of the tour bus.
  • New Amerykah Part One and Two (2008, 2010 respectively) — Andre Harrell. I was at Electric Ladyland working on a body of music, about 30-40 songs, and I was trying to choose what goes where and pair it down to one album. Andre Harrell was there and said, “Why don’t you just make it part 1 and 2?”
  • Baduizm (1997) — Innocence. Youth. Possibility. Creative juices. All those things.
  • Mama’s Gun (2000) – Funk. Electric Lady Studio. Musicianship.

On her foray into the cannabis industry with the launch of her own line of products:

I always wanted to be part of the cannabis conversation and now I have this opportunity. I have a perfect partnership and released my first strain called “That Badu.” I took on the task of joining the cannabis conversation where women are concerned — women growers, users, doctors, spiritualists, scientists, dispensary owners, etc. — who use cannabis in their work. I’m happy to create products around this line that speaks to a woman’s needs.

On her consistent dialogue with women of color in her music:  

I would say that your hair is fine, its beautiful. It’s yours. Not only is it beautiful, its antennae. It’s your source of connection with nature in its most natural form.

On where she sees herself in terms of her influence on music:

My best work is still inside of me. I’ve had fun and had the opportunity to create however I wanted to create, and stay in alignment with myself the whole time and not lose myself in the 25-year process. I find myself in the present.

On her personal mantra:

To each his own. That’s my philosophy. I don’t know what’s right for you. You don’t know what’s right for me. Leave other people’s b-tches alone. Unfollow me. I say it every morning.

Listen to “The Progressive Underground” with host Chris Campbell Saturdays from 8-10 p.m. ET on 101.9 WDET and streaming on-demand.

Support the shows you love.

WDET’s unique music programs are dedicated to exploring the music and culture of our region and the world.

Keep the music going. Please make a gift today.

Give now »