This fall, Erykah Badu surprised many and pleased all when she dropped a remix of Drake's "Hotline Bling" and announced the impending arrival of a mixtape—which would be her first major solo project since 2010's New Amerykah Part Two. And yesterday, Badu shared a preview of the tape's second release, "Phone Down," during a live video shoot on Periscope. Ever the master of creative platforms, Badu's Soundcloud and Periscope flexing is some of the best promo work of the year.
In a conversation with The FADER, just after shooting her video and before a rehearsal for this weekend's Soul Train Awards, which she'll host, Badu said that her tape will drop during Thanksgiving weekend and that it's "a whole new frequency for the planet." For any other artist, that might seem like hyperbole, but if anyone's capable of nudging the world into something new, it's her.
Below, Badu speaks about why her new songs are about phones, her friendship with Drake, and her recent return to the stage as both actor and producer.
On Thursday you gave the world a preview of your new song "Phone Down," which follows your "Hotline Bling" cover. Is there a larger theme here or are these two just related?
Absolutely, the name of the mixtape is You Cain't Use My Phone, and every song is phone related.
I know that title is a nod to [1997 single] "Tyrone," but what is it about phones that's interesting to you right now?
Actually "Hotline Bling" started it. After I heard that song it inspired me. I was feeling it really and I started making the songs. No particular reason though.
I know you worked with producer Zach Witness on the tape. Can you tell me a little bit about how you met and what working with him was like?
He was a kid that remixed for me—one of my songs a few months ago. He's from Dallas where I'm from. One of my DJs, J Clipse, told me about him. We texted a couple of times and I saw him at my art gallery show and I said, "We should hook up some time, I really want to do 'Hotline Bling,' we should work together," and we did. We started in his home studio and he just got that hot, he got that freak shit, and I really, really love working him. We belong together.
We didn't know what it was going to be. When I released "Hotline Bling," I didn't make any announcements, I just put it up on my Soundcloud. I just put it on my Facebook. That's when we figured out we were on to something—"Let's just do a mixtape, let's do it together." It takes about one day to do each song. It's the future.
Can you tell me any more about what we should expect from the mixtape?
I'm in love with this mixtape, it feels good. I think it's a whole new frequency for the planet and I just wanted to do it because it's inspiring me to write my new album—it's kind of like the buffer in between. I would like to describe it as a creative process and I got some really good surprises for you guys. I cannot wait until the end of the month, it will be on iTunes at the end of the month. But along the way, I'm going to drop some freebies and some underground shit just so the people can have something to listen to.
Have you heard from Drake at all about your "Hotline Bling" remix?
No, I haven't heard from him at all. I don't know if he's even heard it.
That's surprising. In 2014, he famously said that he came over for tea and —
Absolutely, we're very good friends. He's just super busy right now. That's my brother, he's like a little brother to me. I went to Canada and hung out in the studio with him, while he made Take Care. We're very good friends and we had some great talks. He's an inspiration to me. Sonically he's in a place where I want to be. It's halfway between where I was and halfway to where I am now. If I want to come out and do something, I will try and raise myself to his bar or channel myself to his frequency.
There's a voicemail in the middle of your remix. What can you tell me about it?
It's my real voicemail. Yeah if you call this number I'll send it to voicemail. I've had it for about a year.
I actually followed her because people told me about her story and she tweeted me like, "Oh my god!" I thought it was pretty cool. The most remarkable thing about the story to me is the way that she put it out. I thought it was a really good use of space, a really good use of platform.
Do you have any more plans for your one woman stage show?
Absolutely, I did my test run in Dallas. I feel really good about it, the show is 85% improvisation. It's something I need, it's a kind of therapy for me. It's a great creative platform for me to work on my freedom and my act.
And are you interested in more acting opportunities?
Yeah I do acting here or there. I'm on a series right now on Amazon called Hand of God. And I just think it's for here or there. Music's been my priority for a while because I felt good and I felt good in that genre. My first love is acting, I'm from the theater. I've been in the theater since I was five, I majored in theater at Grambling State University. I direct all of my videos, write all of the treatments. If I'm in front of the camera, but also behind the camera I enjoy creating.
You're going to host the Soul Train Awards this weekend. How are rehearsals coming along?
We've been in Vegas all week rehearsing. This year it's special because I'm an associate producer on the show and a writer on the show. It's going to be fun and a great experience. I brought on a great team of writers, amongst them are Carl Jones (Black Dynamite and Boondocks), Cedric Yarbrough, and Gary Anthony Williams. They're comics who have a lot of experience in their field. We just work together kind of come up with stuff and chill out. I've been enjoying the experience a lot.