Editor's note: Our writer was struck with a gas leak this weekend, so the review is a little late. You'll live.
For the past three years, Erykah Badu has invited friends, family and all of Dallas to the Bomb Factory for a celebration of her birth. This year’s affair, titled Bless You Bruja! Another Badu Birthday, was, as usual, a star-studded event. Featuring the likes of Yasiin Bey, Dave Chappelle, DRAM and Willow Smith, all of whom graced the stage to give thanks and praise to “Queen Badu.”
The event, which was streamed through Facebook Live, was Feb. 24 at a club that Badu says was a frequent haunt for her while growing up in Dallas. The livestream was almost more intriguing than standing feet from the stage. Viewers heard Badu tell stories about Santeria rituals as she prepared behind the scenes. Her daughters and special guests milled in and out of the frame as the stream went on. Seeing 13-year-old Puma Badu sing "Happy Birthday" to her mother or DRAM giggle awkwardly at the camera before heading to the stage added to the fun of the night.
Most of the fans in attendance, however, were prepared for the inevitable wait at a Badu show. But after sets by Bey and dead prez, the crowd seemed to express more anticipation than restlessness before the birthday bash began in earnest. As Badu finally took to the stage, the already pungent air grew thick, and she belted “On & On” from the 21-year-old album Baduizm.
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Her hair was constantly windblown, accentuating Badu’s shamanistic movements as she sang classics such as “Love of My Life,” “Me” and “I Want You” and performed a spirited and spooky theremin solo. She played the instrument as deftly as she managed her backing band.
Laser lights surrounded Badu like a protective shell. As she rounded out the end of her set, Badu looked almost austere. She played “2000 A.D.,” strumming her guitar on her lap before the stage descended into darkness, and Badu announced Smith to the audience.
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Jada and Will Smith’s daughter evoked the late Dolores O'Riordan as her voice rose from whispers to screeches through her 2014 song “Female Energy.” Thus began the cavalcade of guest stars and surprises that a Badu birthday is known for. As Smith left the stage with many thanks from the crowd, the show truly began. Badu called out for a Digable Planets baseline before starting into “Appletree” and inviting Mary-Ann "Ladybug Mecca" Vieira into a medley of “Rebirth of the Slick (I’m Cool Like That).”
A flood of surprise guests started to appear, with D.O.C. and Anderson .Paak showing up up to sing and celebrate. Badu’s friends and family surrounded her as a sold-out crowed cheered and passed joints. Ultimately, the show was everything one could have expected. Chappelle and Badu sang a duet cover of Prince’s “1999” as the crowd began to thin.
At the end of the night, Badu raised a hand in the air and asked everyone to follow suit.
“Right now, we just transcended race,” Badu said to the last of the crowd. “We became one singular being.”