2017 marks the 20th year of Erykah Badu’s debut album, Baduizm and her creativity and outreach has only become more potent in its influence. Even in the absence of new solo releases, Mz. Badu is ever-present. It’s as if the effect of her former projects lingers in the soul of its listeners before lending its self to the Soul of the World—not to mention her social media presence. She lives as Twitter’s high ranking elder, wise enough to push necessary dialogue but trill enough to put you in your place.
Since the release of 2015’s But You Caint Use My Phone, the soul singer has been keeping busy. Finishing up her Badu Vs. Everything tour just last month, she also curated the fourth installment in a series of Fela Kuti box sets and hosted BET’s Soul Train Awards for the third year in a row. This year’s show found the legendary MC at the forefront of controversial topics, speaking her truth about “fake news” while also showing love to all the artist that hit the stage —new and old. In honor of her latest endeavor, EBONY chatted with Mz. Cerebellum about keeping peace during the chaos, the true definition of “mumble rap” and manifesting your purpose.
EBONY: As the host of the Soul Train Awards for the third year in a row, we can always expect you to drop a few of your “izms.” This year you lead with commentary surrounding our current political climate, the negative shift in energy we’re experiencing and remaining spiritually in tune through it all. It seems as if spiritual wellness has always been apart of your life. I read that when you were attending Grambling State you taught yoga and meditation to the youth?
Erykah Badu: I studied all forms of art in school. When I went to college at Grambling, I became a theater major there. And I had little odd jobs in the summertime. It was during my school breaks when I would teach the kids yoga at the Community Center.
Did you teach meditation as well?
I was supposed to be teaching meditation. I wasn’t trained to teach it but I just felt like it was very necessary because I grew up in that community and wanted to give those children something that they didn’t have. It was at the Martin Luther King recreation center. When I grew up there, I was able to travel all over the world and I never left the gymnasium because they would bring so many special projects and programs. Different people that I’ve never even heard of—which encouraged me to believe that I could be anything I wanted to be! And that’s what I wanted to do for kids.
It’s pretty incredible that you were so self-aware as a student and provided that service to those younger than you. There is so much strife and distress in the world now. How do you still keep your peace and maintain high vibrations?
I learned it over time. I didn’t start out doing it. I mimicked it. You got to fake it till you make it! I was just doing things that seemed spiritual because I really felt a need for it. I really wanted to vibrate at a higher place. Over time, I’ve just learned to eliminate things. We learn so many things and there so many opinions of how you execute because there are so many roads to get to wherever you want to get. I learned to eliminate all of that and unlearned all of that.
We subconsciously consume so much information that affects our moods and views. So I definitely understand removing certain toxic things.
Yes. I just started from the basics of listening for the stillness underneath every single thing — even when it’s noisy, hectic or chaotic. I tried to listen for the stillness under every single thing. Not metaphorically. Literally. Listen for the stillness. It’s a vibration and it’s humming underneath everything around us. And it mimics what we describe as love. That’s what I feel when I actually connect to it. Once I connect with the stillness under everything, I can connect with every single human being, no matter color, beliefs, religion. Each is connected. That’s what I know now. I didn’t start out knowing that. I had to go through the whole process of figuring it out. And along the way eliminating things has gotten me here. But the journey still continues even where I am now! Thank you for letting me share that with you.
No, thank you for sharing! I was most looking forward to hearing you drop these gems. That’s one of the reasons you resonate so well with my generation. There’s this duality to you. You promote peace and positivity but make no mistake—you take no shit. And you’re also really big on embracing your sexuality. Who inspired you to be comfortable with yourself?
You do. When I talk to you and talk to younger people who are so effectively generating what it is that you want to create and manifest it right before my eyes. You inspire me. It’s the honesty that you have. The realness that you have. The ability that you have to become whatever you want. The main thing about this generation is the frequency keeps rising higher and higher. I mean, unfortunately, the top story is all this negative shit but what’s really happening is that the frequency is raising. The vibrations are raising. People mistake my son, who’s 19 and his generation for mumble rapping. But they are an example of what we are becoming as a society because their vibration is so high that they don’t even need words anymore! It’s all about the frequency of that music.
Can’t say I’ve thought about it that way before.
When I go to an Uzi Vert concert or an XXX concert or an UglyGod concert..I’m looking around and everyone is speaking the same language. Who am I tell my son and his generation at 19 that his truth is not relevant? They are generating what they need. This low-frequency shit is boring to them. Media? Low frequency. News? Low frequency. Shows? Low frequency. And low frequency has nothing to do with drugs. That’s coping mechanism for mental illness. Low frequency keeps you low but they ain’t falling for it. Do you want to know the coldest thing about this generation? They know what they are doing and they ain’t got to explain it to you. Because it’s unexplainable! They don’t have time for it. And you’re not going to listen anyway. That’s their attitude you know? So, I got to believe in them.
You were never limited in that way either. And maybe it’s because you never allowed it. You went to a few labels before you found one that believed in you and understood your vision. You embrace the youth and their freedom to create, from showing love to 6LACK’s “On & On” cover to the “For the D” challenge. Do you have any other new artists that you pull from?
I like this group Canadian group called the badbadnotgood.
I’ve never listened to their music but I’ve heard of them.
Listen to them. They are a coldblooded group. But I listen to a whole lot of stuff. I mean were in the age of information and as a DJ it’s important to keep my finger on the pulse of the music.
When you listen to these sounds, I’m sure it inspires and helps in your own personal projects.
They do. I’m not just a musician or a singer. I’m getting in so many different things. I’m also a filmmaker and I’ve recently been editing these little mini-movies all day long. That’s what I’m doing right now — visuals and frequencies more than words. Words are not coming to me right now for some reason. Just feelings and I’m able to express these feelings through visuals.
You’ve always been dynamic in your artistry, from the very beginning. The people of Brooklyn connected with that authenticity too. I read at the beginning of your career before Baduizm debuted, you would perform in the city. Any other memories you connect with from back then?
It was just the newness and freedom. The feeling of conquering the world. The feeling that I was immortal, you know? I started my career at 27 and we’re so young at that age. But we’re also so old at the same time. It seems like you never age and you kind of stay in the same place and mindset because our minds were so open and intelligent. You’re not exactly a child and you’re not exactly embracing adulthood. It’s a beautiful place to be. And I remember it being one of my favorite times in my life. I don’t know how you guys feel now. And I can only emphasize with you because of the frequency of shit that’s happening right now.
Tell me about it!
It just seems so competitive right now. You’ve got social media and a hundred people doing what you want to do or think that they can do what you can do because they can make it look like they do what you do. It’s different now. I recorded Baduizm on a cassette tape. There was no internet. Baduizm was one of the first CDs I ever saw. So it was a different time. But I can imagine the illusion that you guys are under. The illusion that it’s not so good. But what’s actually happening is, the vibrations are rising! And the people that know, know. And I just want to remind you.
Any advice you can give to the youth on manifesting their dreams?
Write it down. Write down everything. And go back through it. Underline it. Circle it. Underline the nouns once and the verbs twice. Write it down and watch it happen.
The 2017 Soul Train Awards will air on BET and BET Her on Sunday, November 26 at 8:00pm E.T.