5 Things Artists Can Learn From Erykah Badu
A Guest Post by Ava Bella
I read an article over the weekend from the Sydney Morning Herald – Erykah Badu: Beyond The Ankh. Now, I’m probably one of thee most faithful E. Badu fans on the planet and if you know me, then you already know that. When I sing, you can hear her influence amongst others, but her impact on me is quite prevelent I must say. Hey, even when I first put out LadyGun, Google Play listed her as my “sounds like”. I digress. Over the last 5 – 10 years, I’ve been compared to her vocally and often times people say our writing styles are similiar. I’ve never minded the comparison, not one bit. I’m about to tell you why(I know I’m about to date myself, but who cares) –
Erykah Badu Photo Cred: Nation 19 Magazine
It’s late May of 1997. I’m traveling with my older sister, my mom, and my daddy in the family mini van on a 14 hour drive from Kansas City, Missouri to New Orleans, Louisiana. We are headed to the NO because I’ve been accepted to Dillard University’s summer academic program in hopes of receiving a full scholarship to study Vocal Performance in the Fall of 1997. This would be the begining of learning myself, my heritage, more about opera(I wanted to be an opera singer at this time), and pretty much all things about the world we live in. I hadn’t had much down time at all between graduation day and starting college – there was literally only 7 days between the day I walked the stage and got my high school diploma and started college classes. Stay with me, I have a point.
Baduizm by Erykah Badu Released February 11, 1997
3 months before this monumentous event in my life, something major happened in the music world and in the world period. On February 11, 1997, Erica Abi Wright, would release her debut album, Baduizm, under Kedar Entertainment and Universal Records. When this happened, she single handedly breathed life into urban music again. Pulling from Jazz, Hip Hop, R&B, and from time time, the Blues, she revived us! For a lot of us we had been waiting for something like this, someONE like this; finally music was GREAT again!
Now I could go “on and on” about Ms Badu(I’m sure that’s been done before…lol), but the purpose of this post is to share 5 things Artists can learn from her, so here goes…
1. Find and convey your own style – be original
When the video for “On and On” came out in ’96. I was like, wait, who is this woman? She’s got on very little makeup(if any), she has a head wrap on for the whole video, and then mid-way through the whole thing, she puts on a table cloth and rocks that bish! We hadn’t seen anything like her style before, and really haven’t since. After that video, I decided to incorporate multiple african and colorful sarongs into my wardrobe. I’ve never quite heard the full story as to how the head wrap came to be for her. I do know that that ish is had everybody(even me) trying to it! Now, we all know that she has since stopped wearing them, but what that did for her was make her immediately recognizable because it was original. If everybody’s doing it – it’s gonna become wack very soon and you can bet on it. Be yourself. If you follow that link above, you’ll see that she found along her journey, that “it” factor we could all see wasn’t because of the head wrap at all, or the clothes, it was simply her “focus on being more in here than out there”.
2. Don’t force the creative process – or any process for that matter
Last May(2013), she announced that she would be releasing her sixth studio and album but wouldn’t be placing a time constraint on it. As artists, we really can’t force it. The process of creation has to be organic. In the article that sparked this list she says, ”I don’t go by that time stuff because I have to live and procrastinate and hurt and dream and laugh and stuff, to write.” She goes on, ”And I do it because it’s my therapy.” As for writer’s block, she had this to say, “I don’t believe in that. I think it’s just downloading time. If you can’t think of anything, you can’t force yourself. Your body don’t know that the president of your label wants an album today! So you just kinda have to live. And if you can’t do it, you can’t do it.” She goes on, ”I’m not gonna make up some wack shit just to appease the label. I think the people deserve so much more than that. What they want, I think, from me is to keep me honest and … that’s all, really. ‘Cause it’s really nothing else I’m doing special.” There you have it! So going forward, when I’m personally asked when my sophomore project is coming out, my response is, ‘it’s downloading right now’…lol.
The Soulquarians Photo Cred: Wikipedia
3. When it comes to collabs and appearances – make them count
Now, this is not something you HAVE to do, but honestly, just like all money ain’t good money, all projects ain’t good projects! For me, I have to really get down with the artist, their movement on the planet(not just the industry) and whatever the track is musically for a collaboration to make sense. Brass tax – I gotta admire the other persons work. What we’ve learned from Ms. Badu is much of the same, from the Soulquarians(seperately or together), to the Janelle Monae, to the recent appearance with Kendrick on the BET Awards(2013); work with people that compliment your art! If we are not in this to share in the creation of impactful works that transform; what do we do this for?
Erykah Badu & Kendrick Lamar minutes after their BET Awards 2013 performance Photo Cred: BET.com
4. Convey how YOU feel in your music.
In the article, she also said, ”I don’t think it matters what you talk about, I think it matters where you are and who you are as a person saying it. This is how you feel, this is what it’s about.” That’s just it! It’s about you, not what a label wants, not what’s “popular”, not what anybody says you should be talking about, just you. It’s simple – do YOU!
5. Take the gig – with or with out the new project or single
Baduizm released in February of 1997, debuting on the Billboard charts at #2 and #1 on US Billboard Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums. It was certified platinum THREE times by RIAA, Gold by the BPI, and CRIA. For her debut, she was nominated for and received a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Album in 1998. But before all of that, she took the gig! Kedar Massenburg of Kedar Entertainment “discovered” E. Badu YEARS before all of this happened at a D’Angelo show in her hometown. She was the opening act for D’Angelo in 1994, and this was the spark that lit the flame. Massenberg signed her to Kedar Entertainment and then came the deal with Universal Records, where she would release the album. She still continues to tour, make appearances, collaborate gracefully with others equally talented, appear on and off the big screen, flexing her acting muscles, and dammit – she continues to just BE GREAT! Had she not taken the very first gig though, whether paid or not( I don’t know whether it was or wasn’t), we may not know who Erykah Badu is right now!
Stay on your grind and hustle my friends! If you do, you just might get #Grustle!
Ava Bella is a singer, songwriter, and author originally from Kansas City, Missouri who has spent the last 3 years playing dates around the US alongside international acts like Morris Day & The Time, Estelle, and Luke James, Hip Hop artists like icon Masta Ace, DJ Marco Polo, The Knux, and GLC, as well as mentors @KCPL and James Christos(both of The Anarchy Movement). Now a touring musician and entrepreneur, she’s also acted as a consultant to indie and unsigned artists and labels as CEO and founder of Assilem Music & Media Group, an advocate for minority female business owners as CEO and founder of Majestic Refuge Nonprofit, and self-proclaimed fashionista as owner of The K&A Boutique.
Twitter: @MsAvaBella @AssilemMedia
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