Ms. Badu cooks up sweet soul music
Erykah Badu's roommates in college was a guy named Fred, a good friend of hers who was always telling her to be quiet. "He would say, 'We don't want no more ideas,'" Badu says, laughing. It's true that the serenely self-confident Badu is brimming with them: a chat with the twenty-nine-year-old soulstress will inspire you to simultaneously get in touch with your spiritual side and cook up a big, turmeric-scented pot of vegetarian fare. Following her own path has certainly worked out for Badu: Her 1997 debut, Baduizm, won two Grammys, and in her first major movie role, the girl outshone Charlize Theron in The Cider House Rules. Badu recently released Mama's Gun, a gorgeous patchwork of soul, rock, reggae and deeply personal lyrics. While she munches on pecans and waits for the refrigerator repairman in her Dallas home, she talks about life and love, and she refutes the rumor going around that she's pregnant with little Common Jr.
Writer's block occasionally shut you down when you were working on songs for Mama's Gun. Are we talking a few weeks?
A few months. But I don't go by the deadline, I go by the lifeline. I have a life, and it's not only music. There's my son, Seven [whose father is Dre‚ from OutKast], who is three years old and needed my full attention. The love that I give, to him and to my family and to my fans, and my music all come from the same place. The purest place, where only God knows. Where only God goes. These things have to be in perfect placement.
The song "Green Eyes" is about your breakup with Dre. I would find it tough to sing that song on tour.
It's Andre's favorite song on the album. He insisted that I go ahead and do it, because we would like for people to learn from our experiences. It's the same with [the OutKast song] "Ms. Jackson."
Surely "Green Eyes" is a little painful.
No, because we didn't break up like that -- in a way that we didn't agree with. We were just both very young, very much in love. In love enough to say, "Let's have a kid." Just too young to really decide, to really know what was best for us, for our highest good as a family.
Did you really fall in love with him the very first time you saw him?
Oh, yeah. Well, not the very first time. I saw him in a magazine, and he saw me in that same magazine. And we felt the same way a few miles away. He's a cool guy. He's one of my best friends.
Your tour's coming up. Any jitters?
No, but I get a little nervous before I go onstage. I just take a couple of breaths, pee and let that adrenalin flow. Sometimes the audience doubts me, sometimes they dote me, sometimes they love me. No matter what anybody else does, it doesn't change my attitude. I am who I am, and I'm gonna do what I'm gonna do.
Although it must be daunting to have to win over an audience.
Especially now, my second time around. Because I was this amazing goddess from another planet the first time I came around. Everybody was excited. Since I've been away, there have been five or six [laughs].
Care to address the rumor that you are pregnant with Common's child?
He's one of my best friends in the world, and from my planet it's OK for a boy and a girl to be good friends without being in an intimate relationship. It's OK. We're both surprised every time we hear something like that, but we just kind of laugh. Sometimes we want to add to the rumor [laughs]. We were saying about the pregnant rumor, we were just going to have all the Soulquarians call and say, "No, I'm the daddy!" "No, I be the pappy!" Those things hurt people, especially when all you do is go to the store and come home every day, and then you read in the paper that you did this or you did that. [Pauses] Hold on one second. [Pauses] Hey. That was Macy Gray on the other line. She told me to tell you "Hi."
You know everybody!
We all friends. Jill Scott, Macy. We gotta be. We give each other advice. I'm the old-head, you know.
Oh, yeah. I've been in the music business longer than Jill and Macy. For the most part, we don't even talk about music. Lauryn [Hill] and I talk about our children and how we do this. When you find somebody as wonderful as Macy or Jill or Lauryn, or my Soulquarian friends -- Common or D'Angelo or Mos Def or Amir -- all these people are my best friends, and I know if something ever happened, they would be here on the next flight. We keep in touch, I mean, daily.
How do you meet? Does anyone call you out of the blue?
This may seem strange, but the best way I can describe it, it seems like we are a tribe of lost children who are reunited. Our spirits are shown through our music, and we hear each other. You know, in different tribes, when the slaves were brought over, they had certain drumbeats that were indigenous to each tribe, and it's almost like the music is like that for us.
Is every man in the world after you these days, you being single and all?
I don't know. They could be thinking about it. [Laughs] But they don't have my number.