Erykah Badu has been mighty busy lately. So busy, she has almost given Leon Bridges a run for his money. Mostly the news has revolved around her new mixtape, BUT YOU CAIN’T USE MY PHONE — which dropped on Apple Music on Black Friday — including her remix of “Hotline Bling.” But she also starred in a one-human performance at Dallas’ Black Academy of Arts and Letters, which was a fitting warm-up for her most recent role: host of the Soul Train Awards, which aired last Sunday, November 29, on BET.
Badu — aka Badoula Oblongata, aka Sara Bellum, aka Maria Manuela Mexico, aka Annie the Alchemist, aka Fat Belly Bella, aka DJ Lo Down Loretta Brown, aka “She Ill,” aka Analog Girl in a Digital World (and, well, the list goes on) — has hosted the awards once before, but that was all the way back in 1998, so her return was a big deal.
Originally filmed on November 6 in Las Vegas, the show aired Sunday night and, largely thanks to Badu, it was solid entertainment. It probably wasn’t worth sitting through all two and a half hours, but luckily for you, we did. Here are some of the
1. The Queen's Hilarious Opening Monologue
After singing and performing while riding a hoverboard, Badu kicked things off saying, “Tonight, it’s all about soul.” Badu joked she was banning all rap from this year’s show, which meant no sagging pants, gold teeth, no more than three tattoos per arm and that “absolutely nothing will be on fleek.” Sticking to her mixtape’s theme, Badu’s phone then rang. The ringtone was Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson,” which was written about Badu’s mother. Badu “answered” the phone to find baby daddy and collaborator Andre 3000 on the other end of the line. Again, she explained to him that no rappers would be allowed at the show — not even a legend like 3 Stacks. Next, Badu got a call from Young Thug, who she said is one of her favorite artists right now. But, unfortunately for Young Thug, Badu told him, too, that rappers were not welcome. Nobody with “‘Littles’ or ‘Youngs’ in their name” would be allowed on stage. And then, the best part: “Who is this?” Badu asked. “Iggy Azalea? Yeah, hey, you can come — because what you’re doing is definitely not rap.”
2. Jeremih Not Playing Piano
Remember that obnoxious song “Birthday Sex”? Yeah, that’s Jeremih. And that’s not a typo — the dude actually forgot the A in his name. But if you didn’t know that, it’s cool, because neither does BET apparently. Before the show even started, @BET tweeted about “Jeremiah” and his hits. Nice.
But that wasn’t even the funniest part of Jeremih’s night; that honor goes to his “performance.” Maybe he’s more of a singer than an actor, but he’s undoubtedly an atrocious actor. Who told him it was a good idea for him to fake playing the piano on national TV? C’mon, man.
3. Jill Scott’s Acceptance Speech and Performance
Three-time Grammy-winning soul singer, actress and poet Jill Scott was honored with the first-ever Lady of Soul Award. While definitely not the most entertaining performance of the night, hers was the most inspirational. In her poetic acceptance speech, Scott asked, “What does it matter what I look like as long as you can relate to what I make?” She then performed a wonderful medley that spanned her storied career.
4. Soul Cypher. A SOUL CYPHER.
I’m way more into hip-hop than R&B. I love rap cyphers, which involve a group of artists taking turns spitting over an instrumental. So when Erykah Badu, K-Ci and others popped off with a “soul cypher,” it was an interesting and unexpected touch of hip-hop in a show that, as Badu made clear in her monologue, didn’t include any rappers.
5. R. Kelly's Performance (But Not R. Kelly. Never R. Kelly)
R. Kelly is the King of R&B. R. Kelly is also a terrible person. After gospel singers belted out songs about needing a little more Jesus and loving God, BET welcomed to the stage a sexual predator who infamously urinated on an underaged girl. Of course, you probably know him for hits like “Ignition (Remix)” and “Bump N’ Grind,” both of which he performed. The songs, taken by themselves, are absolute masterpieces of R&B — some of the catchiest and most loved songs in the genre. But knowing R. Kelly and his past, lyrics like, “My mind is telling me no/But my body, my body’s telling me yes” seem flat out wrong.