Rapper's delight

Erykah Badu emerges from nowhere with a record deal and vast ambition

"It's a family thing, and everybody's real supportive. There's a lot of love. At first, I thought everybody was going to be mad at me just 'cause I got signed and they didn't. People do that, you know, but everybody was cool."

Badu has certainly connected with the right people. She was signed by Kidar Massenburg, the man who discovered 21-year-old singer D'Angelo and took him to the top of the R&B charts with his 1995 album Brown Sugar--which has since netted D'Angelo the Top 40 single "Cruisin'" and R&B Grammy nominations for Best Song, Best Album, and Best Male Vocal Performance. Massenburg is the vice president of Universal Records while, at the same time, he heads his own imprint for the label.

Massenburg says he heard Badu's tape when a mutual friend passed along the demo and then made the introductions. Massenburg was interested enough in the tape but remained skeptical until he had Badu open for D'Angelo at Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth last November. That night, Massenburg was convinced, and before Badu could sign with Columbia Records--which was also preparing an offer for Badu--he got her to sign on his dotted line.

"She was without question an artist I wanted to sign," he says now from his New York office. "It was her whole presence. I heard the music first, and her music was different. It was reminiscent of Billie Holiday, which is why I like to say Erykah is my jazz-soulstress. I have an ear for different talent that can work, and once I signed her, I put her in contact with the people that worked on D'Angelo's record. We're taking it from there.

"She's not Mary J. Blige. She's the next thing, whatever that might be. She's not all the way jazz or hip-hop, but it's soulful--soulful jazz, ya know? I see her filling that slot. Same as D'Angelo came to change the direction of the male vocalist in R&B, I see the same thing for Erykah on the female side. I want to keep her true to the core and not put her in makeup and make her something she's not. I want to make her accessible to everyone."

Scene, heard
What they are is back together, sort of: On March 8 at Club Dada, three-fifths of the New Bohemians--Edie Brickell, Kenny Withrow, and John Bush--will perform under the name The Slip. It marks Brickell's first local appearance since the New Bo's performed two shows at Trees in November 1994, when the band reunited for a fund-raiser to help out the young daughter of a slain friend, it is unclear at this point whether the band will perform any old material or stick to new songs--like there'd be any difference...

The Toadies have been in the recording studio, but not to lay down tracks for a follow-up to Rubberneck--the band's 1994 gold record that's still spawning singles and videos. Rather, the band has recorded a song for the upcoming Crow sequel ("Paper Dress," produced by Butthole Surfer Paul Leary) and cut a version of Gary Numan's "Cars" for a to-be-released tribute album celebrating one-hit wonders. The band also has finished filming a second rendition of a video for "Away." Finally, "Backslider" can be heard, almost in its entirety, in the new David Spade-Chris Farley laffriot Black Sheep, so help me, Jesus...

The Old 97's have released a seven-inch single on the Chicago-based Bloodshot Records label, which also released the band's 1995 Wreck Your Life. The A-side features "Cryin' Drunk," but the flipside is a terrific take of Johnny Cash's "Let the Train Blow the Whistle." For what it's worth, the record is blue.

Street Beat welcomes e-mail tips and comments at DalObserv@aol.com.

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