Fan Convos, New Music & Soul Train: On The Creativity of Erykah Badu
"I can make you put your phone down."
- Erykah Badu
I realized a few weeks ago that it's been five years since Erykah Badu's New Amerykah, Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh dropped. Once that happened, I instantly hoped for new music from her. Then, good news came: she announced the release of her new mixtape, But You Caint Use My Phone, which came out on November 27. [insert hands up emoji here] While she announced her new music, she promoted the Soul Train Awards that aired last Sunday, the 29th, which she hosted and was an associate producer of. Then, Thanksgiving weekend came...and she completely owned it.
It's ironic how Badu can make people put their phones down, but she had folks on their phones all weekend.
First, she had people frantically trying to reach her via her burnout phone, a phone whose number was hidden in her "Hotline Bling"/ "Cel U Lar Device", "Phone Down" and mixtape covers. She answered some of the calls and broadcast them on Periscope. I truly enjoyed seeing her interact and give time to all of the people that reached out. I was hoping to have some dope story to tell y'all about how Auntie Badu and I had a dope conversation about the mixtape and just about how dope she is in general, but unfortunately, I couldn't get through. Her phone kept ringing with so many people trying to reach her.
Then, people were struggling to download and listen to the mixtape via iTunes and Apple Music. This was especially true once people found out Andre 3000 made an appearance on a very beautiful track called "Hello." From what I've gathered in my limited number of listens, But You Caint Use My Phone is a "TRap&B" mixtape full of covers about the complexities of love, trust and relationships portrayed through a phone analogy. What draws me to the mixtape is how it's authentically hers: we hear a lot of the current trends in music on the project, but it doesn't overwhelm her sound -- it's actually very much similar to her sound, so it all makes sense...at least to me. My favorites are "Hello," "Cel U Lar Device" and "Medley: What’s Yo Phone Number."
Finally, people were talking about the Soul Train Awards all over social media. From her comments on Iggy Azalea in her opening skit and her "Phone Down"/"Tyrone" performance to the Soul Cypher and Babyface tributes, this year's Soul Train Awards was probably one of the best awards shows I have seen in a long time. Even though her opening number seemed a bit awkward for me, she warmed up as the show went on and did a really good job. The concept of having solely R&B artists perform was a breath of fresh air, since most awards shows have rap, pop and EDM artists perform most often these days. I would have enjoyed it more if there were more current R&B artists present to perform. Outside of the Babyface and Jill Scott tributes, I looooved the concept of the Soul Cypher, which featured Badu on the 1s and 2s and vocals by Chrisette Michele, Lalah Hathaway, K-Ci of Jodeci, and Eddie Levert of The O'Jays. The segment, which was Badu's idea according to Chrisette Michele, featured the singers over the Mobb Deep "Shook Ones, Pt. 2" instrumental. I would have loved it even more if Raheem DeVaughn or Tank had taken part in it and if the artists had freestyled their parts. Check out the video of the cypher here.
This weekend was so exciting for me because not only did we receive new Badu jams, we saw Badu as a real creative. She did her own marketing for the mixtape, she took over The Fader's Instagram account for the day, and performed at, co-wrote, co-produced and hosted an awards show. It reminded me that even though it's been almost 20 years since Baduizm, Erykah Badu is still the dope artist that I was drawn to back in 1997...and she's only getting better.