Fourteen years after the release of Erykah Badu’s debut album, Baduizm, the singer is performing it in its entirety at the Rock the Bells festival. After she finished performing in San Bernardino, California, on the opening night of the tour, Badu told Rolling Stone that she hadn’t been sure what to expect before taking the stage.
“It’s the first time I’ve done Baduizm from top to bottom, so I wasn’t sure how it would go off,” she said. So how did it feel? “It’s a little slow because in 1997 Baduizm was a movement, it was a tribe of people, a cult following who felt that same way, but it doesn’t translate live the same way. But maybe it’s nostalgic to people.”
Her performance was one of the high points of the festival – but Badu has her own expectations to live up to. “As a performance artist, in the spirit of Yoko Ono, in the spirit of Josephine Baker, in the spirit of Nina Simone, I know what kind of reaction I expect or want to get,” she says. “I know when the audience and the artist become one living breathing organism. It’s happened a couple of times, but I want it to happen all the time.”
Badu was confident, though, that by the time Rock the Bells hits San Francisco this weekend, and then New York and Boston in subsequent weeks, she will have the performance where she wants it to be. “I think [in San Francisco] we’re going to have a better understanding of what we’re doing. I’ve been on tour, so I’m hot, I’m good.”
As the only singer on the main stage of RTB this year, she says she’s just honored to be in the company of the hip-hop royalty on this year’s tour. “I’m a B-girl in my heart. I write like an emcee, I used to be an emcee before I was a singer and I just feel the energy. I’m just happy to be amongst Ms. Hill, Talib [Kweli], Mos [Def], Nasir, Common, Cypress – it’s amazing to me,” she says. “You can feel the energy, feel the excitement because it’s like a high school reunion every time you do a festival with like-minded artists.”
Performing the album for the first time live is also opening her to the idea of revisiting Baduizm in other settings, or maybe even other albums. “I imagined being in front of an orchestra doing Baduizm before because I think it’s very fitting for the type of mood Baduizm is. That would really be beautiful,” she says. “[And] New Ameryka Part One and Part Two might come off a little better in front of this audience because it’s a little bit more contemporary, it feels the frequency of what this audience is about, what we’re about.”
After she finishes with Rock the Bells though she’ll turn her attention to new music, as she is working on multiple projects, including one with Warp recording artist Flying Lotus, whose Cosmogramma won Best Electronica Album at the Independent Music Awards this year: “We’re four songs in,” she says. Plus, there’s a chance there’ll be new Badu music next year – she says she’s also working on another studio album.