The Entertainment Issue: Godmother of Soul – Eryka Badu’s expanding musical universe

This portrait of Eryka Badu gave me so much respect for the Godmother of Soul and made me listen to her beautiful “Baduizm” and her other albums on Apple Music non-stop for a couple of weeks now.

Badu, who is forty-five, has lived in Dallas all her life. But she spends a considerable part of every year on the road, since 1997.

“I’m a touring artist, not a recording artist,” she says

She views her vegan diet as a matter of common sense.

She’s a rare veteran musician with no ill feelings towards the music industry. once known for her meticulous recordings, she’s adopting a looser, more spontaneous approach. One of her collaborator says:

“It’s just raw, and it works”

Her appeal and influence is enduring. She’s one of the country’s most revered singers. She has also become a touchstone for a generation of younger musicians.

As a musician, Badu sometimes seems, gratifyingly, to be aging in reverse, embracing a youthful spirit that didn’t hold as much interest for her when she was young and dignified.

Although she sometimes calls herself Analog Girl, she is adept at social media. She had been thinking about recording a version of “Hotline Bling,” the viral hit by Drake and then thought thought of other songs about phones: “Mr. Telephone Man,” by New Edition; “U Don’t Have to Call,” by Usher, the Isley Brothers’ “Hello It’s Me,”. Her playful duet with Andre Benjamin helped to turn her quirky phone project into a major musical event.

Badu’s fashion sense, like her music, has grown less predictable over the years.

She has nurtured a side career in fashion; in 2014, Riccardo Tisci selected her to be the new face of Givenchy.

Her relaxed manner can be deceptive. When helping her daughter for the school talent show, it was clear to her that there is nothing casual about putting on a show:

“Whenever you get near the stage, that means you are focused on your performance,” she told them. “You’re not fidgeting, you’re making eye contact, you’re serious—got it? If you got it, say, ‘Got it!’ ”

“Baduizm” and her sophisticated songs provided a pleasant change of pace and convinced listeners that a musical reformation was under way. It has its own under-stated hip-hop swagger.

“Mama’s Gun” was craftier and even better in her view.

She is in no rush to release another album, and for someone like her, who is both a mid-career artist and a perfectionist, an album might not bring in enough money to justify the years it would take to record.

“I have to actually steal time to write albums,” she says. “I have to shoot hooky. My team has to be looking for me. ‘Where are you?’ ‘I’m writing a album!’ ‘What you doing that for?’ ”

She is responding to the complicated incentive structure of the modern music industry, in which the most reliable paychecks often come from miscellaneous engagements.

She’s working on the music for “Legends of Chamberlain Heights,” an animated series. Instead of paying exorbitant fees to license old recordings, the network could simply hire a Grammy-winning, chart-topping singer to make some new ones.

The beat was starting to sound like the beginning of a song, and now Badu thought she might want to keep it for herself, perhaps for the album that she can never quite refrain from working on.

“I like it,” she said. “I don’t think we should give it to them.”