Thursday, October 27, 2011

Erykah Badu: Queen Diva for the Hip Hop Generation

GQ has a special edition about "Survivors” out now. They're listing Gods of Rock like Eminem, Lil Wayne, Keith Richards, Raekwon, PJ Harvey, others. Erykah Badu is the only black woman on there. And I don't say that to start trouble, but to point out that Erykah Badu > better than Beyoncé (and I'm a Beyoncé fan as well). Which I didn't quite realize until seeing GQ get ahead of the curve a bit.

Now it’s true that I'm partial to her steez cause she's a b-girl, and I'm a b-boy. And it’s true that Beyonce's more accomplished in her way. But Badu sometimes gets overlooked when talking about today’s divas (“scientists come out with your scales up”), and on the low she might be the Queen Crown Jewel of the hip hop generation. We have enumerated points and clips here for definitive proof. Let us watch and count the ways:

1. She's wearing the chain: The main difference between Badu and Bey: Badu is a b-boy, Beyonce’s a b-boy’s pinup girl. It was great for the time, but I think both Bey and Jay will come to regret “the dopest chick in the game wearing my chain”. Come on, that’s some subversive power play shit. And you know what Erykah would say to some nonsense like that:

Whut? You better go back the way you came. WRONG WAY. You don’t want to FA-LA-LA, son. “You ain’t the worstest one I have done, but you’ll do until he comes”. Whuuut? Beyonce gets a little bit of growl going on occasion, but she never gets on her “gonna be some slow singing, flower bringing, if my burglar alarm starts ringing.”

This would not be dope if Badu was in and out of rehab, or on some hoodrat shite where you can’t bring her home to the parents. But that's where Erykah can flip it and come back on some Cosby Show-caliber respect. Since Baduizm she's been rolling with the dopest intro in the history of womankind: Can I ask the elders in the house if I can speak freely?

That's straight B-Boy/Girl. But, hol’up:

2. SHOTS FIRED: You don’t want it with E: (via)

"I look at some other videos. I’m not naming names, because I don’t want that to be mentioned. There is the thing with sexuality. I’m naked for 13 seconds, and these people are naked the whole time and gyrating and saying come “lick on my lollipop,” and “suck on my cinnamon roll,” and, you know, suggesting sex. People are uncomfortable with sexuality that’s not for male consumption. Could be ‘cause I did it in public too. Do you think people would have been complaining if I had on high-heel shoes?"
Unh. She's not naming names, but who run the world? Baaaa-du. But wait up...

3. Which leads to getting her Hipster Art-Sexy on:
the video for Window Seat proves she can throw some of that Gaga in the mix and get as performance-art crazy as any of these other b’s out here.

I’ve heard pros and cons on this video. But as an artist statement? It gets no more raw and on point. Everyone has the *idea* of getting naked just doing a video. But who can get it right? Who can take it to Dealey Plaza and bleed blue groupthink? Rihanna’s maybe on the way, but not quite there yet.

but hol’on

4. The Rapper Eater: Andre 3000, Common, The DOC, Jay Electronica. Yo, she EATS inspires rappers. Rappers are like, please have my baby. She’s like, maybe, son. “I’ve had a boyfriend non-stop since I was five,” she says in this interview, also getting in how they don’t teach human relationships in class, infidelity not being a deal-breaker, and all her baby-daddies being present. Sounds like a Big Love mess, but, oddly, everyone is on public record as happy and grateful for the relationships.

But the extra dash of paprika on this is that she then makes songs out of em. Beyonce would have to break up with Jay, make a song like “Green Eyes”, then get with Kanye, Drake, and J Cole and write more songs to draw even. Takes a certain temperament to survive that sort of rollercoaster and not have your voice waver. Eryka’s like f a clothing line, I’ll wear good/once-good rappers for clothes.

but wait...

5. B-Boy + Rapper Eater = Makes beats on stage:

Ok, I guess you do have to buy into this a little. With that shirt, I could accept someone saying they’re not impressed and it all looks totally ridiculous. Everything she does walks this line of being dope or totally ridiculous. And you have to choose. I think the necessary leap of faith is part of the appeal. She's an easy mark for the cynical, but it's their funeral.

6. you can leap cause you see shit like her buying drinks for everyone in a disappointed crowd...

she handles this sort of potential disaster with a certain flair. definite true-blue diva move here:

7. and she's versatile:

supporting backup/lead performance with My Morning Jacket covering Tyrone

8. She channels old stars: Beyonce is obviously bonkers on the dance performance tip. But one thing she's never done is make me understand an artist from an older generation. Diana Ross was a little before my time, and I never quite got her. Until this.

But, oh yeah, now I understand "Love Hangover" for sure. one of the sexiest joints ever. got it.

9. Could have been in movies: Beyoncé could still accomplish more in the movie realm, but i always thought Cider House Rules was proof she could get busy for the camera if needed.

And if none of that helps here’s a bunch more evidence:

The one "street-smart" sentiment not packed into The Wire was this hustler love story:

this one she just kills it (check 2:40):

no dude wants to hear Orange Moon at the wrong time, get something in their eye and shh:

that hump:

Soldier is more fodder for the b-boys:


And I didn’t even mention “Bag Lady” or her hair, which might be the greatest hair of all time. Case closed. Welcome to the United States of New Amerykah, this is your Queen, Erykah Badu. She's good.


  1. I spend a lot of time (no, really) thinking about what Jay and Bey’s very public relationship (or, the public projection of their relationship) might mean for black people and white people and America, especially now that they are having a baby. Has there ever been another (sexualized and sexually protected/ “pure”) pregnant black American media sweetheart? Who doesn’t love Beyonce? She’s so Normal. I was just thinking about that, and about this comparison between Beyonce and Badu, and how much of both of their careers have been shaped in various ways by the way they do relationships...

    You’re positing Badu as the b-boy and Beyonce as the sexy wind beneath Jay Z’s ever-expanding wings, his proverbial blackbird. But neither one of them is really upsetting the fruit basket in terms of traditional gender roles vis-à-vis men.

    I don’t know really where I get this, and it may be some ugly preconceived notion rearing its head (feel free to call me out), but Badu has always struck me as a sort of open submissive—even a bit of a masochist. (Remembering, too, a Jay Electronica show where he went off between songs about how all girls like to be choked… which is obviously both completely not true/ridiculous/fucked-up and totally true... not that EB’s boyfriend(at the time?)’s offhand comments about female sexuality are particularly telling about hers.) There’s something so exposed and raw and empoweringly disempowered about her Badu's sexuality. Egalitarian. Like she belongs to everyone. Whereas Beyonce was never ours. Now she’s part of a family unit. A sexy one, but closed to everyone outside of it.

    But either way, it’s a kind of belonging… and it’s a process that depends on their public relationships with men. Specifically, black male hip-hop artists, all arguably incredibly gifted in some way. To way oversimplify, maybe Bey’s choice aligns her with a particular kind of success (commercial and on the cusp of the mainstream) and Badu’s aligns her with a different kind (artistic and countercultural), but I’m not sure it’s fair to say that either one of them is really stepping outside of the “blackbird” game...

  2. Which is not to say that i didn't watch every one of these clips and melt--per usual, with her.

  3. Anonymous10/27/2011

    the most shocking part of the window seat video is when she tosses her coat on the sidewalk. Burberry. Badu in Burberry?!

  4. joanna, i don't know about badu as submissive. the link to the quote about sexuality in videos, along with the interview mentioning always having a boyfriend have her talking about the relationships, which isn't a lot to go off of... but I get the vibe of sexless (not lacking desire but just deprioritized in relation to children, work/music), also maybe open relationship stuff. and her lyrics and strong stage presence certainly don't suggest submission or any sort of timidity. beyonce's "sasha fierce" makes me think she might have a closet submissive. badu has always seemed what you see is what you get. never a character, always "evolving"

    me liking badu's b-boy, is different than bey-jay stuff. that's a whole boat entirely. but i do think beyonce has chosen to *own* the pinup girl stuff as much as one can own it. i really think they're both great models. but i do think the reason bey and jay are so symbolic is cause are both a little tied up in the corporatized infrastructure. they play marketing. they make great *professional* radio music. badu, not as much. also seems to me like 4 might want to be like a New Amerykah. Badu made by-the-number records with baduizm and mama's gun (by the numbers for her) and now just oozes music. beyonce seems more in need of the system and scaffolding.

    isn't it odd with so many cross promo stuff and guest appearances they haven't worked together. have they? badu, lauryn, rihanna and beyonce should start a girl band. badu would be the drummer.

  5. i don't think of badu as stridently anti-label. and it isn't loud or garish by any means. perfectly reasonable coat. no reason it can't be nice.

    also the whole thing is such a metaphor it could be symbolic. maybe it is an anti-label statement. (i'd bet on the first one though.)

  6. Good points all around. But sexless? Badu? I don't get that at all. I don't see her marketing sex, or exhibiting sex that it is in any way marketABLE, but I think it's totally there. Also, submission and timidity are not even related. And: drummer not bassist?

    This makes me want you to do a post on the best of that type of female collaboration... are there enough of them out there?

  7. not enough collabos anywhere, in anything

    also, i don't know, sexless is overstatement, but especially compared to that neo-soul group, there's a lot less sex than the usual. she might be like 30-40 percentile? and beyonce's 80-90, r kelly's 1000, a rihanna is like 70, trending up fast. an alicia keys is maybe 50-60. she might be on par with an adele, which owuld be unexpected.

  8. Joanna, I know what you mean about the submissiveness vibe... I'm not sure what that's about, and I've wondered if it has to do with her embracing of the female/feminine in the way that she does. Not to speculate about someone's religion out of turn (oh wait it's not a religion), but if she's really of the Nation of Gods and Earths, if she considers herself an Earth, that means she accepts that the only number she can achieve, according to the supreme mathematics, is 6 - she can never be a 7, a (black) man, a God. She seems really into playing "her role," and being a mother an all that... as strong, creative, and independent as she is. Then again, doesn't she call herself a God in one of these videos...?

    In related news, she's a doula and training to be a midwife...

  9. great post dude. I always saw Badu as being too left off center to ever do beyonce numbers. So its kind of like comparing apples and oranges. beyonce is way more into maintaining societal /gender roles in her work. Even though she occasionally parades herself about being into female empowerment its within a very small sphere. Eryah on the other hand has always come across as way more legitimately progressive, if nothing else than in the way she's maintained relationships with multiple famous men and been very open about it and never fell into any sort promiscuity shaming (that i've ever read).

    that mpc video was kinda nuts not even gonna lie.

    plus she has an amazing ass. Just keeping it 100.

  10. Julia: the mathematics angle is interesting. theoretically she could censor/be quiet on the NOI angles for professional reasons. she projects a sense of boundlessness, but also seems comfortable with gender roles. and if she thinks most can't reconcile both those things maybe on stage she errs on the side of being limitless.

    ray: her ass wasn't something that would occur to me until looking at all these videos. ... but best look comes in the window seat vid. and there have been so many marketing gimmicks premised on showing "real women" or "real bodies" that it made me wonder if others liked that particular conceit, or were like, meh, whatevs about it.

  11. Anonymous11/01/2011

    is it unfair to measure a female artist by virtue of their ass? because beyonce's ass >>> badu's ass, and I am not ashamed. isn't beyonce in your "asses that changed america"?


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