Erykah Badu

It’s been more than a decade since a songstress from Dallas with her hair wrapped in a Nefertiti scarf first unleashed her boho soul upon the rest of the world. Singing womanist anthems in her reedy voice, Badu proved to be a true original-and many have followed in her footsteps. Now, it’s the year of the New Amerykah (Universal Motown). Badu plans to follow the February release of the first album of that name, subtitled 4th World War, with part two, Return of the Ankh, later this year.

EVELYN McDONNELL: You’re very into eating healthy, so I’m curious: Was the song “Honey” on New Amerykah inspired by honey’s medicinal properties?

ERYKAH BADU: No. Honey isn’t really that good for you. The song is about a lover, a fictitious character named Slim, who I’m chasing. It’s a blues-standard-kind-of-format song that could be done just as well with a stomp and clap as with anything else. The music was produced by a cat named 9th Wonder. With this album, I used some really twisted scientists for producers. We all came together and started this movement.

EM: So what is the movement?

EB: The music and the frequencies in the music. “Honey” is the most straight-down-the-line song from the album, but for the most part, everything else is pretty much pushing the envelope. When my first album, Baduizm, came out in 1997, one thing rolled after the other. I got about 15 awards that year, including Grammys, a BET, and American Music awards. I met the love of my life, André Benjamin, and had a baby when my second album, Live [1997], was released. It was my magnum opus year-the kind of year everyone dreams about. After that, I felt like, “Okay, I’ve gotten that out of the way. Now I can do whatever feels good from the bottom of my heart.” That’s what I’ve been doing since, and I don’t ever underestimate the audience’s ability to feel it. I’m a performance artist first; I’m a recording artist second.

EM: Do you think that coming from Dallas as opposed to New York or L.A. enabled you to create your own sound?

EB: Maybe so. I didn’t know the rules, so I just did what I felt. I didn’t have any doubts until I became a bona fide adult and I heard other opinions. I’ve doubted so many things between now and when I came out with my first album, and I’ve had so many things happen since then. I’ve had two children. I’ve had three boyfriends. I’ve had a lot of things happen that can change your opinions and values and philosophies.

EM: How old are your children now?

EB: Seven is 10 and Puma is 3.

EM: I love that name, Puma.

EB: The puma is one of the biggest and strongest cats in the feline family, but it has no roar. I thought that was very unique.

EM: It’s also of the new world-part of the Americas-which brings me to the title of your album. Obviously there is the “Erykah” pun, but what is the vision of America that you wanted to tap into with this record?

EB: I’m in the business of telling the truth-my truth-and that’s what New Amerykah is about. New Amerykah is a statement that simply says, “This is the beginning of the new world”-for both the slaves and the slave masters. In other words, everybody has to wake up and see. This new world moves much faster. We don’t even realize how fast we’re moving.

EM: How long were you working on New Amerykah?

EB: I actually began working on it in 2005. I had the baby in 2004, so in 2005 I kind of got up out of the bed, got in the world again, and started to record, and it just wouldn’t come. I thought I had lost my creative net. But for some reason, something woke up in me in 2007, and it came through by way of the digital world. My top priority at the time was homeschooling my daughter, so between that and the touring, there was really no time to do an album. What we did was my homies would instant message and iChat me and say, “Come on, E, we got a track for you,” and they would send me these tracks. I learned GarageBand and began to pull these tracks onto my Mac and throw vocals underneath. That’s how New Amerykah came about. I claim to be an analog girl, so I’m in this new world, invading its space.

EM: So are you a digital girl now?

EB: I’m still an analog girl because I took every digital song I had and dumped it onto tape.

EM: You actually have a few albums worth of material that you’ve written between your last record, Worldwide Underground [2003], and New Amerykah.

EB: Yeah, usually between albums, I write at least 57 to 59 songs. Listening, for me, takes much longer than recording. I have to listen to the music over and over, and feel it, and add things, and move out of the way and let whatever energy is going to enter come on in.

EM: Weren’t you preparing to become a holistic health practitioner at one point?

EB: Yes, I became one-a second-degree Reiki practitioner. Like I was saying, I’m not just a recording artist. I do many things and try to put my hand in many places.

EM: Are you still acting?

EB: No, I’m just getting back into the world, girl. The music business is very aggressive and abrasive, so I want to have my dome on tight.

EM: What do you do with your kids when you’re on the road?

EB: When we’re not together, Seven stays with his father or with my mother. Puma is always with me. She’s too young, and she needs to be with me right now.

EM: Are you still with Puma’s father [rapper the D.O.C.]?

EB: I’m not. We’ve always maintained a friendship. We’ve been friends since we were children. Both of my children’s fathers have got my back. Those friendships are very important to me.

EM: Do you feel like having a lifelong love is something that’s still ahead for you?

EB: That would be awesome, but I come from a family of matriarchs. My mother was married to my father, but they separated when I was 3, and my grandmother married and separated early in her children’s lives. So that’s what I’ve seen, and it works for me at this point in my life. I’m not in a rush. I love falling in love-I love love-so whatever happens with that will come. There are some rumors about me, like if you look Erykah directly in the eye, you’re going to change and wear crocheted pants. [laughs] So who knows? The niggaz might be scared.

EM: I’m sure you can be intimidating.

EB: It’s hilarious to me, though. They don’t know anything about me.

EM: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?

EB: I don’t think they see the balance, but they will. I’m a Pisces, so I’m a very closed-book kind of person. But it opens itself as time goes on. I’m a leader, I’m an artist, I’m an innovator, I’m a mother, I’m weak, and I’m strong, so all those things will be revealed.