By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"I'm influenced by so many things and so many people. I can never take all the credit. There are millions and millions of atoms that go into what I do. I'm honored by the comparisons, but I can't see why they pigeonhole me like they do. But it is an honor. I remember feeling that I wasn't a very good singer at one time. I knew I loved to do it, and I could feel it and everything, but it wasn't award-worthy. But as I grew into a young woman, I grew into a better person and a better artist. It's in the believing and the feeling and not what anyone else thinks or says. I don't even worry about critics, because they aren't the reason why I am."
For a 28-year-old, Badu also carries herself with elegant grace. The video for "On & On," which looked like a trailer for The Color Purple spin-off series, was the best-shot thing on TV last year. You watched it--you watched her, her eyelids drooping and mouth grinning like she knows a secret she'll share for a price--and wondered when someone's going to cast her in a film (too bad it turned out to be one written by and starring Dan Aykroyd as a bloated Blues Brother). She is as much an actress as a singer, layering grins and sneers upon lyrics that change moods before the next beat: "Sometimes I forgive you," she sings, her voice soft and light, then she adds "Sometimes I don't" with a feisty roar creeping up in her throat.
But, for now, the roar is hoarse and exhausted. She says she will begin recording her next album sometime in the fall; Badu explains that "it will come up with the answers" to questions raised by her debut album. She will spend the summer "going back into the lab and putting a new battery into the pack, because I've given so much this go-around."
Indeed, Badu spent the last year and a half touring almost nonstop, not only headlining her own shows, but also touring as part of the Smokin' Grooves package (this year, she will also appear on the occasional Lilith Fair bill). She was nine months pregnant with Seven (who, it turns out, is named after "The Creator's number," Badu says, and not Mickey Mantle's number) when she finally came off the road, and in November moved into her new home in one of Dallas' older, whiter neighborhoods, where she's less an exotic celebrity than a reclusive novelty trying to deal with the riches and responsibilities of fame.
"My life belongs to everyone, and I guess that's normal for me now," she says. "But I'm a normal person, and sometimes it gets hard, but I kinda create my own calm wherever I go. This is your life, and you expect for certain things to happen, and I expect people to appreciate me and come with me and feel me to see if I'm real or a gimmick or something...You know the work has to be done. I don't complain about it. The only thing I have to complain about is being a little tired physically, but spiritually and mentally, I never get tired of it. I'll never get used to it. It will be an ongoing adjustment. It's a full-time job, trying to be a normal human being and a quote-unquote superstar."
Erykah Badu performs May 9 at the Bronco Bowl. Goodie Mob and The Roots open.