Erykah Badu returned to her performing roots last Thursday (October 29). The Dallas-born songstress graced the stage at the Black Academy of Arts and Letters—the school where she honed her singing, acting and all around innate badassness before the world caught wind of her undeniable talent. During her teenage years of training, Badu stood on the BAAL stage countless times starring in productions. Her homecoming marked another special occasion: It was also the night Badu unveiled her first one-woman show.
Live Nudity is an intimate two-act piece chockfull of poetry, acting and, of course, singing that explores spirituality, love and Blackness through a series of voyeuristic vignettes. Over a three-night run, Badu inhabits a number of eclectic characters, from the self-help guru to the narcissist. She’s been yearning to put on this show for the last couple of years, but surprisingly even Badu can get nervous about sharing her work. In fact, two years ago she booked two venues to put on her one-woman show but as the dates approached the singer “chickened out” and cancelled the event.
“I’m just happy I finally got up there and did it! I can’t stress that enough,” she shares over the phone from Dallas the day after the debut, adding that she still had a case of the nerves. “I thought I would be less petrified, but I worked through it. I close my eyes and the audience and I become one breathing organism exchanging energy. It feels good.”
Badu approached the hour-and-forty-five-minute Live Nudity with the same personal, unpredictable, improvised flair (not to mention humor) that she lends to her songwriting and live shows. “My biggest song, which is really ironic, is ‘Tyrone,’ ” she begins. “I’ve penned songs that I’ve taken three years, three months or three days to finish. ‘Tyrone’ was one of those songs I improvised on stage. It must have been some joke God played on me.”
Badu’s indelible imprint and idiosyncrasies are all over Live Nudity, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. When it comes to her art, she wants to share it all, not just a snapshot.
“It’s not unreasonable to want to share the full vision,” she says. “From writing albums, the artwork, the liner notes, the sequence of the album, the visuals, the videos and the press photos, I’m involved in all of that. I do them tirelessly because I want to make sure the audience sees the full vision that I’m imagining.”
On November 29 Badu will be hosting the Soul Train Awards, and as might be expected, she has her hands on more than just mere hosting duties. This year Badu is associate producer on the show, in charge of hiring a team of writers who’ll undoubtedly shine a spotlight on Badu’s comedic skills. She’s also involved in structuring the format of the award show.
The last time she hosted the Soul Train Awards was back in 1998. The then fresh-faced 27-year-old shared the honors with Patti LaBelle and Heavy D. “At that the time, I was a young artist and I had just come out,” Badu recalls. “Everything was moving so fast for me. It was almost all a blur that night.” She won Favorite Female Soul/R&B Album for the classic Baduizm that night. “I’m really looking forward to hosting this year. I can’t tell you what we have planned, but believe we will be taking you through every emotion, just like music does. It’s exciting to be able to reach my mom’s generation, mine and my children’s generation at the same time.”
This month, the Soul Train Awards will honor two of Badu’s favorite artists: Jill Scott and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. Will we be blessed with a Badu performance? Perhaps a “Hotline Bling” duet with Drake? “I can’t say, but wouldn’t that be so cute?” Fans have been waiting for new music from Badu since 2010’s New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), and this week their pleas will be answered with a new mixtape: But You Cain’t Use My Phone—in reference to her biggest song, “Tyrone.”
“I don’t think I’ve shown all of me and what I can create,” says Badu. “I want to express myself in many genres of art as I can, from painting, cooking, singing, writing, dancing and poetry.” But she isn’t impatient to reveal her glorious layers. “I like to consider myself as a nice slow burn.”
The Soul Train Awards 2015 will air on Centric and BET Networks on November 29 at 8 PM EST.
Alexandra Phanor-Faury is a Haitian-American writer living in Brooklyn, New York with a slight (OK, major) addiction to fashion and pop culture. When she’s not up in the middle of the night filling her online shopping carts and catching up on style blogs, she’s writing about fashion and entertainment for a number of websites and magazines. Check out her work and blog at AlexandraPhanor.com.