Erykah Badu and Drake go way back. Certainly further than Badu's remix of "Hotline Bling," and further even than a certain heart-to-heart over tea that has become infamous in hip-hop lore. But for all the attention this powerhouse pair's friendship has garnered in the past couple years, it has gotten all the more fascinating thanks to Badu's recent media blitz — because, well, it looks a lot like the Queen has taken a page out of the Canadian rapper's playbook. And the rest of the world has been benefitting from the results.
Back in early 2014, Drake was on a run dropping random loosies for the Internet to gobble up and dissect. The day after releasing “Draft Day,” an anthem dedicated to Johnny Manziel about busting onto the scene and maintaining an All-Star status on the heels of “We Made It,” Drizzy released a more introspective track than those boastful proclamations he was handing out.
“Days in the East” dove into Drake reminiscing about a girl from his past who he’s not quite over yet — in true Drake fashion — which most speculate was about Rihanna. In the latter half of the song, Drake raps about going to Erykah Badu’s house, drinking tea and talking about his love life with the Queen of Neo-Soul, who offered this advice: “When that shit is real, you just know.”
From that lyric we got this Vine and a whole lot of speculation about what else the two talked about that night, and why the two were hanging out in the first place. Since then we’ve learned they've been friends for a while. Last week, Badu told the daytime talk show The Real that she reached out to Drake in 2009 before one of his shows in Dallas to see if he would visit her son Seven’s school. They had never met before and she just took the chance because he was Seven’s favorite artist.
Lo and behold, the Toronto star not only showed up to her son’s school but he apparently also spent a few hours with the kids hanging out and giving them advice about their futures. What a good guy. On another occasion, Drake flew Badu out to his city in 2011 to hear his latest project at the time, Take Care. They communicate on a fairly personal level.
But back to that night in 2014 when Drake stopped by for tea — did they talk about more than Drake’s troubled love life? They almost certainly also talked about success and their careers, but did they discuss game plans? It’s no secret that Drake is a master of manipulating the media and the Internet and has been able to regularly keep his name in the headlines since 2009, all the while transforming his persona and garnering an even larger fanbase. Badu has even chimed in a couple times during Drake’s beefs with Kendrick Lamar and Meek Mill, commenting that he should respond to Lamar and supporting his shots at Meek Mill, saying that "it’s good for hip-hop."
If we look back on the last four months, Badu has also been keeping her name in the headlines. She had her one-human show that ran in October; she released an amazing remix of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” that had the whole country talking; she released a mixtape inspired by said remix; and she hosted the Soul Train Awards just last weekend. These moves aren’t exactly out of the ordinary for her — the talented superstar is capable of doing all that on her own. It’s the flair she did them with that felt very Drake-esque.
The media around her one-human show was enigmatic. Nobody knew what to expect from the three-night run, especially when it was titled Live Nudity and she announced it would all be improvised. Without much fanfare, she dumped the “Hotline Bling” remix on Soundcloud, reminiscent of how Drake drops his loosies late at night with no warning. And while hosting the Soul Train Awards she managed to stir up a little controversy while telling the truth when she called out Iggy Azalea for being anything but a rapper, which again feels reminiscent of when Drake hosted the ESPYs in 2013 and wasn’t shy about taking shots at his detractors.
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The mixtape Badu released last Friday, But You Caint Use My Phone, also has a couple of songs, “U Used To Call Me” and “Medley: What’s Yo Phone Number (Ghost of Screw Mix),” that feature an artist named ItsRoutine who sounds exactly like Drake. It’s almost absurd. The Atlanta sound-alike fooled everyone who first heard the mixtape, including publications such as Pitchfork, Complex and Fader. There's no way that's a coincidence, and it spawned the kind of media takeover Drake is known for.
There's nothing wrong with Badu utilizing Drake’s tactics, if indeed she is. We're more concerned that lazy publications have reduced their mysterious relationship to a romantic fling — Complex asked her about it as recently as last week — when it's more interesting than that. It's more plausible that she's keeping an eye on his moves because she respects him. A couple days ago she said this about Drake to the Associated Press: “He’s a genius. He’s a talented actor. He’s a brilliant comedian. He’s a talented songwriter. He’s a talented singer. He’s an exquisite, extraordinary producer. He’s a great person. He invited me to Canada to listen to Take Care. You know, I’m just really proud to see his evolution. He’s one of the few artists I can say is really evolving each time he appears. And that’s inspiring me. And that’s my challenge."
That’s some high praise from someone who is equally talented in her own right. Here’s hoping the two are in cahoots because it’s really great reading about Drake and Badu on a daily basis. And we would certainly love to hear Drake mention Badu in more of his music or even borrow her flow again as he did on the closing of “6 Man” from If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.