When speaking to Erykah Badu, it’s easy to become a bit nervous being in her presence — even if it’s on a Zoom call. She captivates with her depth and intimacy, offering the type of enlightened insight and perspective we’ve come to expect from her since she made her debut in the late ‘90s. Still, she’s learning about the world around her and, most importantly, herself, sharing early on in our interview, “I’m finding myself, too.”
The Dallas, Texas native knows no boundaries as a multi-talented creative. She fearlessly blends R&B, hip-hop, jazz, and funk to create a sound distinctly her own, having released neo-soul classics like 1997’s Baduizm and 2000’s Mama’s Gun, as well as other projects like 2015’s But You Caint Use My Phone mixtape that exhibited her ability to adapt to the digital age. She’s also become something of an entrepreneur in recent years, having made headlines for releasing an incense based on the smell of her vagina, as well as dropping her own cannabis strain with marijuana entrepreneur Berner, fittingly named “That Badu.” This, paired with the recent work she’s done in the fashion world, along with her work as a doula, speaks to how multi-faceted Badu is and continues to be.
Stepping back into the musical spotlight, Badu’s new Unfollow Me tour promises to take her audience on a transformative journey. For the special occasion, Badu extended an invitation to the enigmatic and revered artist Yassin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, to join her on the road. Recognizing his profound impact on the hip-hop landscape, Badu seeks to create a dynamic synergy between their respective artistry, promising a tour that blurs the lines between genres and defies expectations.
“We’ve always been activists in the music industry, champions for artists who are often unheard,” Badu said of Yassin Bey. “We just share a lot of different values and that’s who I want on my stage with me.”
Speaking with Okayplayer, Badu touched on her Unfollow Me tour, expanding her creative touch to fashion, calling out the rapper Blueface on Instagram, and more.
The interview below has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
What prompted you to choose that as the title for this tour?
Erykah Badu: Unfollow Me is a play on words really. But what I really meant was, “Don’t follow me, I’m lost too. I’m on my own path. You’re on your own path and trust it.” It’s also that social media cancel culture. It’s the message to them. If you don’t like it, don’t follow me.
It’s funny that you said “you’re lost, too,” because one would think that Erykah Badu would have it all figured out. What steps are you taking or what advice do you have to find yourself?
I’m not looking for myself. I don’t think any of us are looking for ourselves. We are ourselves. You have to look for that. It’s just a process of elimination. Eliminating things that no longer evolve us, eliminating things that we’ve been stacked with that have nothing to do with us. So, I guess that does mean finding yourself, huh? Taking the covers off of yourself. Like an onion maybe, you’re pulling back layers.
You chose Yasiin Bey to join you on this tour, a fellow Soulquarian. Why did you choose him?
I asked him to come because he’s my comrade in this music world. We’ve always been activists in the music industry, champions for artists who are often unheard. We also share a lot of different values and that’s who I want on my stage with me. Someone who I share these values with so that when we are communicating our truths to the audience, it’s pure and they can share in the journey with us.
Explain a little bit about the intention behind your “Ho-Blockers,” and why they’re an important part of your tour.
Ho-Blockers are very, very important because they kind of represent what you talked about a little earlier. The needing and wanting acceptance. It’s a symbolic way to say, “I am choosing to focus on my goal.” There’s meaning behind it but also these hoes are notorious. So, you have to block them. Wait, not all of them. You want to keep one or two so they can go report back to headquarters.
Is fashion a lane that we can see you venture in? A creative director of a brand?
Sky’s the limit. It’s quite possible. I can see it, and I’ve been kind of working toward it this whole time. So, just seeing it in the air and pulling those things together. When the vision meets the work it happens. So, it’s got to work just a little bit more on it, and I will have something to share with everyone because that’s one of the things I really love. Style. Fashion, I’m not up on it. Fashion is kind of what is in trend. I’m more interested in style.
What’s the difference in style and fashion?
I see homeless people with better styles than some of the fashion that I see. When I say style, it’s the ability to see beauty and value in the things you really love. Your amulets, talismans, favorite shoes, and your favorite things…with someone who is stylish, you can have four pieces — one t-shirt, a scarf, favorite shoe, and a skirt — and make that into many, many things.
How do we as a culture reclaim “being woke”? Or do we need to address it by another name?
Woke can never be dead. Woke is what it is. Woke is one’s ability to recognize patterns in things and apply them. That’s what woke is about. It’s about being conscious, being cognitive. No matter what people say it is, it is a state of being. Our original intention when uttering the words “Stay Woke” means don’t get distracted. Stay on course. Don’t be entertained to death. Stay focused.
Your words are powerful. As soon as you said something about [the rapper] Blueface, something immediately happened. The internet joked, “As soon as Erykah puts something into the universe, it happens.” Speak to how powerful our words are, and that when we speak certain things into the universe, we have to be mindful and intentional.
Yes, we do. Immediately after I wrote it, I felt people were going to assume that I have something to do with it when it happened to him. But I’m just an observer. I just say, “Universe, do your thing.” Universe don’t need my help. Whoever has already set things in motion have done it. I was just reporting the news. I know as much as you do.
What do you want your fans to take away from this tour?
I hope that, like myself, it creates an inner dialogue that leads to your next evolution.
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