Jan 29, 2012 12:00AM

Oyster #97: Erykah Badu

"Human beings don't scare me!"

For Oyster #97, we caught up with the enigmatic Erykah Badu.

Erykah Badu needs no introduction; she is The Real Deal, if ever there was one. Her music pushes the boundaries of soul, hip hop, R&B and jazz, and puts her in the league of artists like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. (If you think that's too big a call, stop reading this article and go listen to Badu's 1997 album Live. Then come back.) Badu invited us into her home in Dallas, Texas to talk about her regrets, the music industry, and her new career.

Ariane Halls: Erykah! How are you? My name's Ariane.
Erykah Badu: Hey Ariane, I'm exquisite. How are you?

I'm well! Your Twitter tells me that you delivered a child over the phone on the weekend. How long have you been a Doula?
Since 2001.

A lot of people wouldn't even know what a Doula is...
It's an ancient intuitive art-form, where the Doula connects with the mother pre- and post-labour to help her initiate her birthing plan, to help it run smoothly, to be wherever she needs me. To be absent when needed, to be in six places at once, and invisible. It should never get in the way of the midwife or the doctors, but should be able to fully take care of the family and all of the responsibilities whether it be massage, or helping her to learn to nurse; helping her with her diet, her pre-natal vitamin regime; helping her to wash the baby when the baby is born; two weeks afterwards, to help her get adjusted in her home. On occasions she even catches the baby!

What made you decide to get into it?
Up to that point I'd had two home births with a midwife and Doulas and it's pretty much a part of my lifestyle. I've been vegetarian for 20 years, and once you research more and more about your health you get into the natural realm of how things work. It was a natural progression for me; I just like to be of service to people. I don't charge anything for my Doula services; my music kind of affords me to be able to do that, and it's my pleasure to be the welcoming committee for a baby; to help the mother and father to communicate in a very beautiful way.

Is that what you think you'd be doing if you weren't a musician? Do you think you could ever have an office job, for example?
I don't know. I think I'll always be a musician and I'll always be some kind of healer, some kind of artist. I think it's all art.

What do you want your children to be, or what do they want to be?
I don't know. It's too soon to say. They're young; the youngest is two, my little girl is seven and she probably has ... she's just like me. She's exactly what I deserve [laughs]; she's a little Erykah. And then my oldest son is 14, and he's undecided at this point. Very talented, very humble guy; he's just like his father, his father is Andre 3000. His name is Seven and he's, ah... he seems like he has things a little bit more figured out than the rest of us.

You used Lil Wayne on the song 'Jump Up in the Air' — who would we be most surprised that you're into?

Kesha? Really?
[Laughs] I like Kesha a lot.

What do you like about her?
She talks a lot of shit, you know, and she kind of speaks for girls and reminds us of our girl power. Women always sort of have the victim role, but her approach is the total opposite. You know? "I'm the shit, and you should be honoured to be in my presence." It adds a little balance to what we have to put up with in our lives [laughs]. So, I like Kesha a lot.

Do you think it's harder or easier to be a musician now that record labels don't have as much power?
Well, the exchange is the social networking. I think all the rules are out the door right now. Right now I'm putting out a video for any song I've ever done, from Baduizm to New Amerykah Part Two, and I've got free range to do that. It's a lot easier now. There are less restrictions and rules to break; I'm a rule-breaker, but there are less rules to break now! You can kind of do whatever you want. The harder thing is not getting those big advances financially that we're used to. I think a lot of artists have set up lifestyles for themselves that they may not be able to maintain. So, that's what I think is happening on both ends of it.

Do you have any regrets about your career?
No. I don't have any regrets in life, period. I feel like there's always a divine order. Whether it's a good thing or a bad thing there's a lesson to be learnt, you know? It's all designed to make us stronger, healthier people who are evolving at the quickest rate possible. And, although it's not a race, I think we evolve a lot quicker when we accept everything and don't expect anything.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about you?
I don't know! I guess what people think about me is not my business. That's my last concern; it's just people. Human beings don't scare me!

We've got Tom Ford in this issue and I know that you're close friends. How did that happen?
Oh, Tom! He's also from Texas, but we didn't come to be friends because of that. We came to be friends because he saw a picture of me on the internet and found me and wanted me to become the face for one of his new fragrances. At the time I don't know if he was familiar with the music at all, but he had this idea of making the model for his fragrance, White Patchouli, a black woman, and I was the black woman he selected which I thought was very brilliant and I've been a big fan of his forever and ever. The first time I actually met him was on set of the photo shoot for White Patchouli, and I guess I fell in love with him as a human being. He's a beautiful person to look at, number one [laughs], and he has so much wisdom and humility, and you can tell he's fearless when it comes to creativity. A great sense of humour; a very sober-minded person, and I'm really attracted to that. I hope that we become even better friends. He picked me up for another year, and he told me he was happy with how it came out. We had so much fun and I learned a lot about the business of marketing. I'm just listening and watching him. I'm grateful for that union.

Who do you most look up to?
Let's see.. I most look up to children, because of their honesty, and fearlessness, and unapologetic love for things and people. I hope I try to maintain that. I most look up to them because they're not yet contaminated with being programmed, and with judging and categorising. They're not concerned with the things that ruin our lives.

What do you think is the most misunderstood thing you've ever done?
I don't know! I don't know. I think they all run neck-and-neck [laughs]. I have no idea; I hear so many opinions one way or the other. I'm sure a lot of things I've done have been misunderstood, but I don't see it that way, because the whole purpose of art is to create dialogue. If you create the dialogue, whether it's pro-something or against it, it doesn't really make a difference as long as it gets people thinking and talking and wanting to create their own pieces of art, and wanting to protest or stand against it. Art cannot be censored in any way. So, I don't think of it in terms of being misunderstood, I think of it in terms of creating dialogue, and if it does that, then we're doing our job as artists. I think art has many layers; you can pull back one or pull back many.

Does your mum still think that 'Ms Jackson' is about her?
You know what? Whether the song is about her or not, she is going to act like it is. My mama lives vicariously through that song. She has an airbrushed shirt that says Ms Jackson, her phone's got a Ms Jackson ringtone, she's got Ms Jackson on her laptop, she's got Ms Jackson on her licence plate [laughs]. So, whether they wrote the song about her or not, she is Ms Jackson [laughs].

[Laughs] She's making it happen. 
The Ms Jackson. If she's not Ms Jackson then she thinks she's a prototype for Ms Jackson. That's the best thing that could ever happen to her in her life.

Amazing. Where do you see yourself in ten years? 
I see myself sitting here in the same chair, but with a lot less on my mind; a lot less on my mind. To me, evolution is elimination. I hope to have eliminated more and more.

What are your biggest concerns at the moment?
I'm not really concerned with a lot. I see myself as a sociologist. I'm kind of like the observer, and if I'm the observer and not inside of things, I kind of have a lot of compassion for things that aren't right, or seen as 'not right' to others, or seen as good, even. I'm just kind of observing everything right now. I don't know if that's because I don't give a shit, or cause I'm evolving, you know? Either way, I don't give a shit [laughs]! I just don't give a shit, I'm telling you. I DON'T GIVE A DAMN! And that's all caps.

Erykah Badu is touring Australia this February, playing Sunday 19 and Monday 20 at the Sydney Opera House, Wednesday 22 at the Palais Theatre in St Kilda and Saturday 25 at the Belvoir Amphitheatre in Perth. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.

Photography: Nabil Elderkin