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Erykah Badu on leading the neo-soul movement and 25 years of ‘Baduizm’

On her groundbreaking, Grammy-winning debut, 1997’s “Baduizm,” Erykah Badu famously sang about seeing you “Next Lifetime” — as if this mystical priestess of otherworldly R&B was operating on a whole different frequency than the rest of us.

Nearly 25 years later, it almost feels like a lifetime ago since a headwrapped, ankh-rocking Badu dropped the neo-soul classic that is “Baduizm” on the universe.

“It kinda was, you know, ’cause those babies are now 25,” Badu told The Post of the songs that gave birth to an R&B revolution. “So yeah, it was kind of a lifetime ago. But I remember it like yesterday. It was my story. I know every page and how to flip back to which page it was in one movement.”

No doubt, when she headlines Radio City Music Hall on Thursday, the artist born Erica Wright will be revisiting some of the fan faves, such as “On & On” and “Otherside of the Game,” that made “Baduizm” not just an album but its own brand of bewitching musical voodoo.

With her 1997 debut “Baduizm,” Erykah Badu was a leader of the neo-soul movement.
Alamy Stock Photo

Crafting “Baduizm” in her Dallas hometown with her cousin, Robert “Free” Bradford, on production, Badu, 50, had no idea she would be leading the neo-soul movement alongside D’Angelo and Maxwell. “I don’t know if you would know that … I was just trying to be as honest as I could,” she said. “We did it all in our grandma’s house, in a little bedroom we made into a studio.”

Taking her demo to the South by Southwest conference and festival in Austin, Texas — “I remember putting cassette tapes into little plastic pockets on those two-inch binders with my pictures and bio,” she said — Badu had a fortuitous meeting with Mobb Deep’s then-manager Tammy Cobb, who connected her with Kedar Massenburg.

“He was managing D’Angelo at the time, and I was one of the first artists on his label, Kedar Entertainment,” said Badu of Massenburg, who coined the term “neo-soul.” “And I didn’t mind at the time, but I think the term kind of stifled me a little bit because the audience begins to expect that kind of thing. And it wasn’t difficult for me to be a nonconformist.”

Badu found kindred spirits in the Soulquarians collective that also included D’Angelo, Q-Tip, Mos Def and the singer’s ex Common, with whom she won one of her four Grammys for 2002’s “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop).” But a very special Soulquarian, Roots leader Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, will be joining Badu for a guest DJ set at Radio City. 

Erykah Badu
Erykah Badu will headline Radio City Music Hall on Sept. 30, with a special DJ set by Questlove.
Zuma/Splash News / SplashNews.co

“We all kind of gravitated toward Quest, whose drumbeat kind of pulled us in from different parts of the space around,” she said. “And we all ended up recording at Electric Lady Studios in New York, and the energy in there kind of glued [us] together more. I mean, we could finish each other’s musical sentences, and it was a beautiful dance.”

In fact, Questlove was one of the producers of Badu’s 2000 masterpiece “Mama’s Gun” — an album whose influence Badu can hear in some of her favorite younger female R&B artists, including Janelle Monáe, Ari Lennox and Summer Walker. “ ‘Mama’s Gun’ definitely started them out,” she said. “It’s beautiful to hear a continuation or an improvement on the design, the conversation being taken further. It’s really nice.”

In addition to her musical spawn, Badu has three children with three of her exes: son Seven, 23, with André 3000 of Outkast fame; daughter Puma, 17, with rapper the D.O.C.; and daughter Mars, 12, with hip-hop artist/producer Jay Electronica. And she’s also helped other mothers bring their own babies into the world as a doula.

Pete Davidson, Lil Uzi Vert, Jack Harlow, Erykah Badu and Lil Nas X
Erykah Badu took a bathroom selfie with Pete Davidson, Lil Uzi Vert, Jack Harlow and Lil Nas X at the 2021 Met Gala.

“I actually became a doula by accident. I am the accidental doula, the accidental welcoming committee,” said Badu, who, while based in Dallas, also has a place in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. “A girlfriend of mine, who is the spouse of stic.man from Dead Prez, went into labor, and I went to be with her in Brooklyn. She had a 52-hour natural labor, and I don’t remember going to sleep or getting tired or anything … I had had the natural birth of Seven a couple years before, so I think it was a natural progression.”

Still, even at 50, Badu isn’t ready to become simply a maternal figure in the game. “I’m still a young artist,” she said, noting that she has big plans for the next 50 years: “I want to build a new world.”

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