Erkah Badu on the influence of Mama’s Gun, being a doula, and making new music
Read the full transcript for the seventh episode of The FADER Uncovered with Mark Ronson.
Erykah Badu on <I>Mama’s Gun</i>, being a doula, and making new music

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I'm Mark Ronson, and this is The FADER Uncovered podcast. In this interview series, I'll be speaking with some of the most influential and groundbreaking musicians in the world, from genre-defining stars to avant-garde trailblazers, about their lives and careers. Each episode will be rooted in these musicians' iconic FADER cover stories, an institution that over the past two decades has told artists' stories like no other. The podcast is a chance for us to talk about the past, present, and future, reflecting on their breakthroughs, diving into their lives when their covers hit shelf and discussing what the future might hold now, and it's an opportunity for me to speak to some of the artists I most admire. This is The FADER Uncovered with Mark Ronson.

"I don't like Erykah Badu." That's a phrase I don't think I've ever heard in the 25 or so years since Miss Badu has existed in the music space. I've heard, "The Beatles suck." We all know someone who likes to say, "Kendrick, yeah, he's all right, but he's no Cam'ron or Rakim." Because the bigger the artist, the more haters you will have, even the great ones. If you Google most-loved musicians and then Google most-hated musicians, you will see a lot of crossover there. That's why it's so rare when someone can be extraordinarily popular. In Miss Badu's case, over 10 million albums sold, headlining arenas since '95, millions and millions of followers on Instagram, yet still have next to no haters. I feel like if there was a math equation to determine who the most universally beloved musicians are, it would go number of fans divided by number of haters squared, and I guarantee Erykah will come out somewhere near the top.

I guess maybe it's because she's made incredible music since she burst on the scene with "On & On" and forever changed the landscape of R&B. Maybe it's because she's one of the truest artists around, always doing exactly what she wants, never bending to the zeitgeist. I'd say the zeitgeist comes to her. She's also charismatic, super intelligent, a warrior of the spirit and the pen. I mean, she literally introduced the phrase woke to popular culture nearly 15 years ago in her song "Master Teacher." She's also made some of my favorite records of all time, and Mama's Gun particularly is in my top five ever. She's graced the cover of The FADER not once but twice. The first time was in the spring of 2001 right after Mama's Gun had come out, and she seemed both proud of the way she had brought a lot of people into the light, pointed the way towards freedom of thought and expression, but she also sounded weary, feeling the weight and expectation of being that spiritual warrior 24/7.

Her second cover came 15 years later because she's never not been one of the most important artists around. In this article, Badu is now both Zen mother and real mother, still smarter than all of us and sometimes still with the arched eyebrow but now also with that playfulness, that silliness that we've come to know and love her for. Still a revolutionary, still delivering her message, but now also delivering babies. I didn't even know what the word doula meant until Erykah Badu became music's most famous midwife and I had to Google it. At the time of the second FADER cover, she was also coming off the back of her wildly successful mixtape, which took the now iconic punchline of her classic "Tyrone" and spun it into a trap R&B song suite called Caint Use My Phone. You look at the arc of her career, all the ways she's changed culture, all the artists she's influenced, the millions of people who adore her, me included, and she has such a singular career, and we are living in her world.

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Mark Ronson: Mama's Gun, that is really my favorite album of that whole era, and I know that there's so many great records that came out of that magic folklore period of Electric Lady and there's Voodoo and Phrenology and all this stuff. I will stand in front of everybody else, and Mama's Gun, when I heard it, it just knocked me out in a way that ... I think because there were so many other influences in "Penitentiary Philosophy" and the heaviness of it, too, and it did things that not all the records really did. I've never really heard you talk about making that record a lot and just where that was. I don't even know if you made it all in New York, you made it all around. So I'd love to just talk about actually the process of writing that record just for minute.

Erykah Badu: Yeah, I made it all around. But the bulk of it in Electric Ladyland Studio where I saw you. You came, I think, while I was working on it once to the studio.

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I think we happened to be with Nikka Costa in another room, so we were borrowing some of your musicians at times, but ... Yeah.

Yeah. I worked on it in different places, but mostly Electric Lady Studio with a live band, everyone in the same room, Questlove on drums, Pino Palladino from The Who on bass, James Poyser on keys, so just the trio and my guitar and percussion.

Were you writing in the studio at the time? Were you actually writing as you went, or did you have the songs then you brought them to the band?

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Yeah, we were writing as we were going. The style of writing is mostly impromptu. Yeah, we were writing as we were going all the time.

And then the craziest thing that also stands out to me other than the record was that when that album came out, you had obviously changed the sequence at the very last minute, and I had never seen that on an album. It was already on the CD, what the name and the list of the songs and the order was going to be, and then there was this apology note, right, from you. What was it exactly? I can't remember.

Well, in sequencing the album, I was going back and forth because, as you know, when you're listening to music after you've finished everything, there's more listening than creating. I was listening, trying to really make sure this is right, the sequence. At the last minute, one night in Electric Ladyland, I said, "Okay," and I had already turned in all of the assets. The label wants you to turn in all that stuff really beforehand back in the olden days. I just changed it at the last minute and just wrote a note and gave it to the label, "Just put this in there and fix it on the next pressing."

Yeah. But that was crazy because a lot of people don't even remember that you would hand in an album three or four months before because the press, vinyl, all this stuff, these things were etched in stone, and I don't think I'd ever seen that before, that an album had come out and then the CD that you put in did not match the name of the songs on the artwork and you had to figure this shit out yourself.

I'm so sorry. On behalf of myself and all of the others who were misled.

No, it was the coolest thing because that was also the most quintessentially you artist thing. Of course, it was like when Prince put out Lovesexy and it's all one track. It's like only Prince would you listen for 48 minutes.

Right. The whole thing, yeah. Thank you.

Then, also, Questlove talks about it because I guess when you were making Mama's Gun, the Soulquarians, that wasn't really a thing yet. It became the folklore, but, really, it was you had brought in James Poyser, right, and then they were all working on ... I don't know exactly. You have to tell me. It was Voodoo and then ... Because of your record.

Yeah, right. All those records kind of came out the same year. It was Common's, mine, and D'Angelo's. But, yeah, we were just all working in that space at the same time, and we were just artists who really admired one another and made sure we locked down all the rooms so nobody else could get in there, and we created our own clubhouse spaceship. I lived there. I lived in my room there, bathed out of the sink and all that kind of stuff.

Which was your room?

C.

C? Okay.

C, upstairs.

Okay.

Yeah. But I was working out of a couple of rooms at the same time. But I was up there with Jimi the cat, who is the legendary cat who either approves or disapproves your mixes. If he approves, he sits there on the console. If he doesn't, he leaves as soon as the door opens. That's how we knew.

And then the amazing thing about Electric Lady is, just for people who don't know, it's Jimi Hendrix's studio, and then C is the upstairs, which was sort of Jimi Hendrix's apartment where he lived, right?

Right. Yeah, C was where he lived. Jimi never actually got to record there.

I didn't know that.

Yeah, he built it, and he lived there, and he worked, but he didn't actually record there.

He never got to.

Mm-mm.

Yeah, I remember the one week that I was there, and just it was these larger than life legends like you, Common, and people just roaming the halls, and it was pretty fucking insane.

It was cool.

Yeah, I don't know. Did it feel like such a movement or something was happening in the water while you were there?

No. Nah. I was sophomore album. I was real green. I mean, I just knew what I liked, and I wanted to be around people who supported my will and my ideas and understood them and could complete my musical sentences and tell the same jokes and just relate to same shit. What we all had in common was the one, and James Brown laid it down, and Parliament Funkadelic and George Clinton handed it to us, and we all inherited this one. It's an understanding. It's like trees. They have this secret communication underground with these roots. Yeah.

Was there a healthy level of competitiveness? I mean, I guess everybody was friends. But also you go into somebody's room, you're like, "Ooh," and kind of like, "Hey, Amir, why didn't you give me that feel?" Did you guys have any of that?

No, because when we were creating, we were creating on the spot, and there was no other moment to think about. We were in the moment, and we were quite tickled for one another, happy for each other.

Yeah. In that article, in that first FADER cover, you can tell it's coming off the huge success of Baduizm and not only you, along with D'Angelo and a few people bringing in this whole new sound. But you more than anybody became a bit of this figurehead. You were expected to not only be this musical figure but this spiritual leader and this public persona. In that article, you seem a little bit exhausted of the pressure of having that on you. Is that fair to say?

Yeah, I think maybe in that time in my life, Saturn return, turning 29 or so, whatever, in my form as a Pisces, there's this thing I have called self-undoing when the head wrap gets too big or the concept gets bigger than the intent. Then I had to undo it, and I was just kind of in that place. I think I had shaved my head at that time. I was just ready to shed things that no longer evolved me, and maybe I was in that state of mind. I could imagine I was.

Did you live in New York around that time? Because I've always associated everything else as Dallas, but you were in New York.

Yeah, I lived in New York from the blizzard of 1995. I still have the apartment there now. But I lived there solely from '95 to '98. Then I got a home in Dallas back home.

Also, because you talk a lot about people think that this is just a clique and it's you wear a head wrap and we're all just sitting around, but you have to be a warrior to live this lifestyle. There's definitely a sense of a loneliness, that it feels like you're a soldier at that time.

Yeah, I mean, I was hanging tight with Mutulu and Khnum of Dead Prez, and we were really trying to figure out ourselves and how we could be more helpful and of more service in the world. The things I wear, they are things that are my favorite things that I like, and what I have on now is what I wear on stage. It's the life I am, and I'm becoming more and more comfortable with saying no. Yeah. I think for some reason that all goes together.

I actually really love the second FADER article. I don't know how well you remember it, but it's really-

I do.

It's just really beautiful. You obviously let the journalist into your life. It seems like a really special period. It's your birthday party. It's all these things going on. It's a picture of this beautiful just family situation. Then, of course, the birthday party and stuff. Is that still an annual thing?

Every year. We missed 2020, of course. No, we missed this year. My birthday is in February. So we landed the birthday in 2020 right before the pandemic, but I've been having it for about eight years in a row. We didn't do anything this year, but it was okay. We needed to be still, it seemed like.

Happy belated birthday, by the way.

Thank you, my 50th.

Because I also noticed that you don't really tour that regularly, right? Is that basically the one special time you get to do the shows?

Regularly, I tour. I've been touring eight months out of the year for 22 years.

Really?

It's the only thing I do. So March 13 was the monumental day when all the tours were canceled indefinitely, and I had to quickly figure out something. So I built a livestream company and try to keep moving for the ecosystem that keeps us going.

Those are amazing, those shows, because everybody was trying to scramble and figure out what to do and you're set. I mean, I guess that's your home, right?

Yeah. Mm-hmm.

It was just the best-decorated backdrop thing I'd ever seen. That was amazing.

Thank you.

And music, are you making music? I mean, I know you're very sparse with how you put it out.

All the time. Yeah, I'm making music right now.

What kind of stuff?

Club stuff, things that are heavy in bass and delta wave, kind of slow, basic, heavy kick drum. I need that bottom for some reason, so I've been making a lot of that. I just completed a meditation hour for Headspace, which is a meditation app.

I know it.

Yeah. So mine should maybe be premiering sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Do they have music with it as well, or is it just a guided-

Yeah, it's music. So I produced 60 minutes of meditation. Yeah, a little Mellotron, a little MP.

I was listening back to Worldwide Underground and New Amerykah, and it makes so much sense that you're a DJ as well because I've seen that. I think we've even DJed together a couple of times. But those albums really are ... The way that they're just sprinkled with these lines and phrases and things from these classic hip-hop, they do feel like mixtapes. That's what I've always loved about them, like dropping "Ding-ding-dong" or doing the "Get money" or whatever it is. I love the way that when you make music, I do feel like this is a DJ who can happen to just also ... One of the greatest singers of our time and, also, the way that you also write the original stuff.

Thanks. Thank you.

Are you still DJing? I remember when we did that party together.

All the time. Yeah. Yeah, I am. It's therapy for me. I never prepare the crates.

Yeah. What new music are you playing when you DJ?

Just about everything. I play all of the beautiful new soul things, Ari Lennox and SZA and Summer Walker and some of those beautiful new things. I love mixing genres and adding new drum loops, harps, and ARPs and things into that kind of stuff, creating something new. When I DJ, I usually have Rashad Smith with me playing the MP live so that we are creating, and I have a HandSonic, like a little synthesizer.

I remember when we DJed together because we did that song in New Orleans and then it was for that film.

Yes.

That was so crazy because I remember we already had the track together, and it was with ... Zig from The Meters was on drums and some of the Dap King guys, and you just came in, and you were like, "Yeah, just throw up the track, and I'll just freestyle or something." I remember so clearly I was lying on the floor with my eyes closed like this and you just started singing and it was so emotional for me because I was like, "Oh, it's the voice, it's the voice of my whole life that I've grown up with," and you're just doing this thing over the track.

I remember being so nervous that day when she walked in the studio. I can be okay at hiding it, and it's my job, and from McCartney to Q-Tip, I've had my share of being in the booth with my heroes, voices I've grown up with. But I also felt pretty good about this little groove I'd cooked up with my brothers in the Dap Kings and the legendary Zigaboo Modeliste of The Meters on drums. So she just asked me to let the track rip, and she got on the mic and started freestyling ideas as they came. I was lying on the floor of the studio, eyes closed, having an almost out of body experience as this voice, one of the most unique tones in all of music and the voice of some of my favorite ever recordings, started to grace this track I had helped create.

The verses were really cool. They had this very Meters-y New Orleans groove, and she was doing all this cool call and response stuff, and I loved it. But then the bridge hit and the chords got a little deeper, a little more soulful and, suddenly, the melodic Badu came out, and I melted inside. It was magic, her specific melodic sensibility mixed with her unmistakable tone. It was like the sound and feeling of all my favorite records in this little eight-bar section over a chord change that I had actually written. I was witnessing this moment of creation of her genius. Only this time, I was like part of the puzzle. While I was preparing to record this part of the podcast, I listened back to the song for the first time in a while, it's called "A La Modeliste," and all those emotions and goosebumps came flooding right back.

Then we went and DJed that night, and it was so great because you kind of DJed like how I would expect you to. All the beats and the mixings were all on-point, but you treated it a bit like an abstract moodboard, like the way you brought songs together. It was like a painting, and you would play Diana Ross into something. It was a very artful DJ set, is what I'm trying to say.

I enjoy you very much, too, your taste, your selections, those smooth blends. You're just everything. You're a historian. You kind of intuitively move. I really love that.

Whenever anyone asks me what new music I'm listening to, I can never remember anything. My brain just goes, "Bloop," like blank. So I'm sorry for asking you a question that I find annoying. But I am always curious because when I DJ or if me and Q-Tip are DJing, I do try and stay aware of new stuff because I don't want to be that old guy who seems like he doesn't care anymore. I do have a hard time finding some of the new shit, but I think that that's cool that you embrace a lot of these new artists.

I like a lot of shit. I don't know if it's new shit or not. It's new to me. I make sure that I keep Thugger and Earl Sweatshirt and Sa-Ra Creative Partners and some of the fresher things inside because they are improvements on the design that we lay. So it's very inspiring to me. It tickles me making me happy. I have a son who's 23.

Wow.

I kind of look at it the same way. He comes to me with something that he's done, that he's made. It's not about if I like it or not. I've taught them to never ask me if I like it. Just ask people how it makes you feel. Because whether people like it or not is immaterial. It's done. This is the shit. It's done.

That's a really fucking cool way of thinking about it, too, because I always used to think when the words ... I don't even know how long ago this is. I'm going to sound like such an old guy, but when the word hot ... When everyone started to substitute the word hot, like a hot record, for being a good record, and it was like, suddenly, hot was this vague word that ... "Okay, what do you mean? It's hot because it sounds like a hit? What about good?" That's why I always just try to keep it .... But then good is so subjective as well. So it's like I don't know if the one's better than the other, but-

Yeah, it's just kind of, "It makes me feel like this or that," or, "Ooh, this is real blue, I like this, light blues and things, just so that he's always inspired to continue to create. I see the new generation of musicians, creators that same way. I want them to be inspired and be honest because it's not really about what they're saying. It's about that honesty. If I feel that, I like it. It can be a hot record, but if I don't feel it, if I don't believe you, it's not the one for me.

When you hear your influence in artists these days, is it a nice acknowledgment, like, "Oh, I hear what you're doing," or this kind of thing, or are you sort of like, "Some people don't hear it, some people hear it," and it's like tip of the hat?

Yeah, I hear it. It tickles me. I'm thinking, "Oh my god, these are my kids. These are what Mama's Gun spat out." They heard it. They internalized it. It's a language that I thought only I knew.

I remember when I was working with Amy Winehouse especially, there was something really specific that I think you introduced to modern soul music, which was being able to be sarcastic, ironic, and having a punch line. That was the thing that I felt even more than anything that she embodied, the idea that with her songs like "Fuckery" and ... If there hadn't been a Baduizm, I don't think that maybe Amy might have sung, "You made me miss the Slick Rick gig." Among your other many contributions, I thought that that punch line thing was just such a huge-

With the Wu-Tang stuff and all of that. Yeah, yeah. I mean, when I hear someone like Amy Winehouse, who is genuinely a vessel, she's inspired by something that I've done, that's the same thing that Billie did and Chaka did for me and it's just paying it forward. It's a good feeling.

I think because I was always a comedy geek I loved going to your shows because ... I don't know if I'd say it was as funny as it was musically moving, but that was certainly a giant part of it on that first tour. It's so crazy to think that now how we get our music from the Internet and all this stuff and you never go, "I remember the moment I heard that song," because we're hearing shit all the time. But I really do remember the moment that I first heard "Tyrone" and the punch line and, "You can't use my phone," and there was six of us driving in a car, and I think it was on Hot 97, because everyone's listening, the song's great, and then you had the feeling it was going somewhere, and then it just stops. You go, "You can't use my phone." Someone had to pull the car over because we were just high-fiving. That was such a fucking incredible moment. I don't know.

Thank you so much. That was a freestyle. When we would be in rehearsal, we would do this one groove, which was "Tyrone," the music, but I would sing different funny things over it in rehearsal. So I was onstage, and my keyboard player, Norman Keys Hurts, starts playing the melody from rehearsal, and I was like, "Okay," and "Call Tyrone" was born on that stage. The recording was an actual live recording that went viral, if there's such thing as viral for radio at that time. But it just kind of went viral, and I ended up recording a studio version of it, which is no match for the original.

So was it written in soundcheck? Was it a-

Oh, nah. It was right there.

Okay.

It was on the spot.

Literally on the spot, like the recording, the live recording is the-

That's it.

Oh my god.

And the background singers knew what to say, because they weren't unfamiliar with this thing that we did. But it wasn't always, "Call him." Sometimes, it would be depending on what I'm talking about. So it was a inside joke kind of song, which ironically becomes my most popular hit.

Right. Well, also, imagine the people that were there on that night, like you were there the night in the crowd. Do you remember what city it was, even?

I think it was DC.

Okay. Yeah, that's kind of crazy. You'd be like, "I was there the night that she wrote, recorded, and performed 'Tyrone.'" Also, I guess if you had to say, that's the most zeitgeist of the song, but I would argue that you have a lot of big classics. But that's the same thing with why you can reinvent it 15 years later on the mixtape.

Yeah, man. I mean, I'm tired of it, "Call Tyrone," but I understand the need for a "Call Tyrone" in an artist's career.

But you kind of reinvented it, too, which is cool as well, with the "Hotline Bling." Do you feel like the next thing that you put out, would it be closer to mixtape vibe or album, Or do you have any idea? You'll just know when it happens?

Creatively, it doesn't matter to me. But I just want to make sure that I get the best deal for what I'm doing. You know what I mean? As a company as well, I just have to make sure that it's the right decision to make. I love doing albums. I love it. It just seems like the day of that is gone. You're left with the album cover. It's funny. I do like making them, but I can't seem to put one together.

Yeah.

Yeah.

I was listening to "Think Twice" as well. The only reason that people know "Think Twice," really, is it's not like it was a big hit, it was just the fact that it was a DJ record because it was sampled by Tribe, "Been looking at the front door."

That's right.

That's why we know "Think Twice." It was one of those breakbeats, like "Rock Creek Park" or something. But the fact that you covered it, that's the thing that I was saying, the DJ mentality, the way you make records is just-

Right. There are a few staple songs in hip-hop that are kind of like a classic song that artists want to touch, like, "Okay, I want to touch the Eddie Kendricks sample, I want to touch the "Looking at the Front Door" sample, the main source." You look at all the people who did it and what they did, my people from Eddie Kendricks, Dilla and Karriem Riggins and so many other people did their interpolations of it, and I just wanted to ... Same thing with "Love of My Life," when Common had the first one and The Roots did the second one, "Act Two," and then I did the third one, "Love of My Life." So it's kind of a hip-hop thing, call and response, another form of communication.

Are you playing shows again now? Are you about to go out back on the road? I mean, I guess you've obviously missed it the past year.

Yeah. Everything in 2020 was postponed to this year, so it starts back up in ... We're in May? Yeah, end of May.

You must be excited to go back.

No.

No? I just assumed because you said you tour eight months of the year. For some people, it's like their lifeblood performing out, and then for some-

You know, it definitely was my life. But I didn't know how tired I was. I missed my whole childhood, just everything happened so quick. So I kind of like still Erykah right now. I love performing as well, so I'll go out, but I'm really enjoying still Erykah.

Yeah. I remember in the peak of the pandemic, when it got, like you said, still, I was like, "Oh, I guess this is my life now, and if I never go back into another session or have to travel again, that's cool, and I'll figure it out." I kind of got into it. Then the last month, real life has been opened back, and just coming out for a couple of days to do a session, I'm like, "Oh, yeah, I guess" ... I think maybe I thought that I was just going to not be able to make music with people anymore. Then, as you start to think more about that, you start to doubt your own talent anyway. You're like, "Cool, well, then it makes sense to move on because I'm old and I shouldn't be making music with people." But I guess these past few weeks, I've suddenly realized, "Okay, I guess life is going to go a little bit back to the way it was."

You never know what's going to inspire you. It's kind of like in the last relationship after the breakup, you're thinking, "I'm never going to fall for this in love thing again," or, "I'm never going to get the kind of inspiration that drives me to create some music and have a hunger for." But it does come. It comes back. Writer's block, it's not a real thing to me. It's kind of like when I'm not inspired to do something and I'm a little frustrated about it, I consider it a downloading period, the time when you're living and learning and growing and hurting and happy and moving and then get so full that all the creativity starts to come out of every orifices. If you're patient, then it's no age limit or no time limit or ... It happens.

I know. I was actually fucking terrified on Tuesday, when I was going to my first session of the year. I was working with Lizzo out here, and I was like, "Nothing's gonna come out, oh, well, at least if I go four hours earlier, I'll get a couple things," or trying to remember how the fucking keyboard and the drum machine work. Then, like always, it does come back a little, and then you're like, "Okay, yeah, exactly."

I'm back on the bike. Yeah, Lizzo and you are a great pairing. I couldn't have done it better.

Well, let's see. I don't know if she likes me yet, but at least I've figured out how to-

She will.

Also, because you mentioned Rashad, and I know you and Rashad have worked together, and the last couple times I've seen Rashad ... I mean, he's produced three, maybe even more, of the most epic all-time hip-hop records, right? There's "One More Chance," "Woo Hah!!," some of the biggest club bangers of our entire lifetime. I do feel like he's a little bit, sometimes, unsung. What's he working on right now? Is he working with you?

Yeah, we work together all the time. We toured together for 15 years. It was our life together on the road. We would have to have a studio on the bus, basically, to have room to facilitate all of the creativity. But he's always working on music. I think he's working on a reggae album right now. But he has the best drums in the world.

Yeah. I remember the first time I met him, I was 19 and I was just so gassed because that was just when I'd started DJing and he had the biggest songs in the world.

Yeah, man.

I mean, I actually only know what the word doula is because of you. Obviously, now it's become a bit more of an understood thing. But were you still practicing before the pandemic? Are you still-

Absolutely. I had two moms this year already. Yeah, always. I mean, it doesn't stop.

Yeah. I was just curious because of the protocol and everything ... Because doula and the delivery of a child naturally seems even more, for lack of better word, hands-on than going to a hospital. So I just was wondering in the pandemic and all that kind of stuff if that's something that you're doing still.

Oh, yeah. Yeah, the couple of moms I assisted this year had their births at home, so it was very easy and comfortable.

Also, but what am I even saying because so many people have babies. I feel like I know more people that have babies during the pandemic than any other time.

Yes. Yeah, because there was nothing else to do.

In fact, in 2016 interview, you said that your first delivery ... Was it for stic from Dead Prez? It was his wife and-

Son.

... son. It was 54 hours of labor?

Yeah, it was my main inspiration for knowing that I would be good at being the welcoming committee. It was my girlfriend, Afya, who's stic's wife, and she went into labor, and I flew to where she was. I was not a doula. I was just her friend. But I ended up, after it was all done, sitting with her 52 hours, never sleeping and understanding. I just had my son two years earlier, and it just came very natural to me. Yeah. It feels good to make the room calm and to make sure that the mother is getting the right amount of nutrients and minerals and enough sun and exercise and that she's communicating well with her partner and that she's reading the materials that are going to alleviate her fears and that she's meditating and she chooses and all those things are very essential in bringing a life.

Yeah. And have you trained other ... Because like I said, I think you really actually brought that word a little bit into the forefront. I think you caused a lot of people, basically, to look up the word doula anyway. So did you end up training, or do you have people that now practice under you?

No, I don't.

You just do it?

Yeah, I'm just Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman by myself.

Right, right.

Yeah. No, not yet.

Downloading, I love the way she used that expression. It's so smart, so very Badu in its nature, the idea that there's no such thing as writer's block, right? You're just writing or you're not, and, in between, you're downloading life, ingesting emotions and experience, absorbing all the things that will enable us to spin that energy into music. I've experienced writer's block hundreds of times. I've witnessed it even more producing records for artists who can't get past a single verse. It happens to everyone, but you figure out how to overcome it, not let it overcome you.

I remember watching Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran stare at a blank page for five hours straight, ready to tear his hair out. I grabbed him and said, "Come on, we're going to go look at some paintings at the Tate Museum." I even have to go produce records for three or four people in between my own because I need that downloading. I need that outside inspo. It's like filling the tank with other people's energy, other people's inspiration. Then I can figure out what I want to say. But she never seems to let anything faze her, and she knows the songs will come when she needs it. Enjoy your life. Sometimes, we're just downloading.

I think in that article as well Puma was maybe 11, and you said she was ... Was she doing some music? Are any of your children making music?

Yeah. Yeah, Puma's an amazing singer. She has perfect pitch. She's definitely an improvement on my design in many, many ways. She's going to do whatever she wants to do and do it well. So, yeah, she's a singer. Mars is a dancer, amazing isolation. Seven, still, he's a student. He's still in school. We have just Puma, I think, for music right now, if I had to predict.

I actually just remembered one of the funniest things I've ever heard somebody say. We were in England, I don't know if you remember, or somewhere rehearsing. We played one or two shows together around that movie thing. Everyone knows the English newspapers are the trashiest thing ever, and you were just bored in one of those rehearsal rooms reading the paper, and you had your nose buried. I was like, "I can't imagine there could be anything in there that's possibly that good." You're reading the paper, and then you just look up for a second and you go, "My baby daddy's a pimp, he's broken up the Rothschilds," and then you just go back into the paper. Because I guess that scanned, whatever, it was around at the time, and it was just like you didn't say anything for 10 minutes and just looked up and said that. It was fucking classic.

I mean, I found out when you found out.

Yeah.

Yeah.

And then that other amazing ... I mean, I'm sure you've done David Letterman a lot of times, but I've watched back a couple times that performance, and that was the most excited I ever saw David Letterman, like jump off the couch because you gave such a great performance. We did that song with Zig. Because I was such a fan of David Letterman, he comes up, he goes, "That's how you do it right there, that's how you do it," and he put his arm around you.

Yeah, I remember that. I remember that. It was the ensemble. It was everything together that day, just us.

That was cool.

That red jacket.

I had a red jacket on. Yeah, I did. I had a red jacket.

I felt underdressed and insecure the whole performance.

Oh, you looked fucking incredible. I'd love it if there's anything that you wanted to talk about. Obviously, I'm a pretty novice interviewer, but ...

Nah, you're doing great. What you into right now? I mean, like hobbies.

Well, I just got engaged.

Okay.

Actually, I was on the way here, and we were listening to Worldwide Underground, or maybe we're listening to the mixtape You Caint Call My Phone, and my fiance was in the passenger seat. We've only been together seven months, and she's a little younger than me. So I'm always surprised when there's a song that I love that she knows the lyrics. But she actually knew way more of the lyrics to You Caint Call My Phone. I knew all the words to Worldwide Underground and Baduizm, and she's just singing every single turn of phrase. She's a massive fan of yours.

That's dope.

Yeah.

That's important.

Yeah. Hobbies? I don't know. I'm just getting back into ... I'm just getting my confidence back making music again and stuff like that.

Yeah. I feel you. I'm picking up new instruments and trying to do creative things on my body canvas and makeup and just trying to be really creative. My daughters are very inspirational in that area. For me, any new hobbies? Oh, I'm training for the 2028 Olympics.

What event?

Hurdles.

Hurdles? Okay, this is really just a breaking story that we've got. You've given us something. This is TMZ. This is good.

I'm tired of just procrastinating. I always wanted to do it. It's time to go.

There's a 100-meter hurdles and a 400-meter hurdles.

I want to train for the 440 hurdles and the 110 hurdle straightaway.

Okay.

The sprint, yeah.

2028, so you're giving yourself seven ... I think you're going to-

I don't even know if 2028 is when the Olympics is.

I say if you say that there's going to be hurdles in 2028, we, alongside The FADER, can make it happen.

I can guaran-damn-tee you that. It's going to be hurdles in 2028.

Were you an athlete at all, or were you just into music?

I did track and field. Last time was eighth grade because I ended up going to a school of arts in high school, nine through 12. But I did sports when I was in junior high, and I thought I was pretty good. I had the will for it.

I was very uncoordinated. That's why as soon as you said the hurdles, I just pictured myself doing it. I ran the wrong way in the relay race at sports day in sixth grade.

I don't believe that.

No, they called me Wrong Way Ronson for two years, honestly. The coach, every time I'd come into PE, he'd be like, "All right, Wrong way Ronson." That was-

One time I peed on myself right before the gun went off. Yeah, I was really nervous because I was racing. It was a sprint, and I was racing a girl who was really fast. I was so nervous, I was shaking. You know how you'd be trying to stiffen all of your muscles and your butt and knees and everything so you don't pee?

Yeah.

Well, there's nothing I could do. I just peed on myself and ran, second place, a pissy second place.

What's more terrifying than being in competition when you're under the age of 16, whether it's a piano recital or a track meet? It's almost terrible that we put kids through anything like that. How could it be anything but scarring?

It really is. I have a lot to say about that, not today. But, yeah, competing is maybe not the best thing.

But what do you do if your kid says, "Hey, Mom, I want to be in the singing thing?" Of course, you have to give them-

Well, I mean, my kids are pretty hip. They know the consequences of their choices and judgments. You can set yourself up for some stuff and just be prepared for it, and if you feel like you're a winner already, then you're a good candidate for competition. If you think this is going to ruin your life if you lose, then you don't need to do it.

Do you still got nervous in that split second before you walk out onto the stage at shows, or is it just so-

Yes. Every time, I have to pee right before the gun. Yeah, I'm nervous. Then I hope that people don't see the trembling. Then it kind of just trickles away once I close my eyes and whatever takes over takes over.

Is it like the first song or second song and then it's suddenly like you're like, "Okay?"

Depends on the audience. Sometimes, the energy is so overwhelmingly warm from them that before you hit the first note, you're comfy already. Sometimes, it's a little different, and it depends on what week of the month it is for me.

Right. Also, in that interview, it says something very specific, like the band's all hanging out, everybody's jamming, but the minute you come in the door, everybody's suddenly like, "Oh," and it's a very professional atmosphere. Did I read that correctly, or am I making that up?

My old band was like that, definitely. Yeah, I do remember one of the hood legends being that I'm very intimidating and you're not supposed to look me in the eyes and all that kind of stuff. But I'm a hard taskmaster on stage for real, though.

Like the James Brown-

No, I slap.

Slap the musicians?

Slap the musicians. Yeah. Not for that moment, like right in the moment. You just got to slap them right there while they're there.

I can't tell if you're joking, but I hope you're not because I just loved it, like you just going back behind the drum rise and just being like ...

Nah, I do it right where they at. If they're singing background and they're in the middle, the other two better step to the side.

Yeah.

Yeah, slapping is good. Yeah. Especially onstage. It brings out the energy. Another thing, you have to make sure that everybody's the same amount of drunk, all the musicians. Yeah. They don't feel the slap. I forgot to tell you that part. They don't feel it. They're drunk.

Okay.

Full face is numb, so long as we all the same amount of drunk and on the one, the show is great.

I used to get really drunk on stage even DJing, and then I just realized ... Well, I did, and then I just realized I was doing it partly for nerves, and then if you're drinking consistently through a two-hour set, two-and-a-half-hour set, then there's a good chance the last half hour is going to be a little sloppy or something, right?

It's true.

I stopped because I just ... I remember the first sets of not drinking, it felt like I'd walked into a school classroom and someone had turned all the lights on and you're just standing there naked. That was just something I needed to move past, obviously.

I mean, I never really drink onstage, I was kidding, or before a show. I'll take a shot with the band after, like a "Yay," but I never drink onstage or any of that stuff, kind of want to be very there for the connection, the performance.

I remember seeing you and D'Angelo. I think it must have been at that Universal Amphitheater, whatever that place is called, on the first album, and I remember I had never seen anybody drink tea on stage before. That was a thing. That was pretty amazing.

Yeah, I need it after a minute. I don't warm up or anything. So my warm-up is the first or second song, and the tea kind of helps to get me ready.

I'm in the studio. Apparently, everyone's like ... This is Miguel's manuka honey. You can have some if you want.

Oh. Oh, okay.

Do you like manuka honey? Singers make a big fuss over that.

I've never manuka honey. How does it work for you?

Really? Oh.

Yeah.

I think it's just sort of a fancy honey, but it's told to have a lot of healing properties.

I'm sure.

Singers love it for the coat. I'm really surprised you've never heard of it because I think of you as knowing about every single thing like that.

Yeah, I don't eat honey, though.

Okay.

That's the only thing, yeah.

Too much sugar?

Yeah, and I think it's the bees'. They might need it for something. They go through all the trouble.

That's true. Do you mind if I ask, are you a vegan?

I eat like a vegan. I don't belong to any type of organization, and I'm not trying to win a war for being the best vegetarian. But I am a holistic electric foodist, meaning I don't eat sugar or dairy or meats or try not to eat processed foods as much as possible. I eat mostly raw food as a diet. What about you?

I try to eat pretty healthy because I exercise and do all this stuff, so I look like I'm in good shape, but, apparently, I just went and had my medical and I had super high cholesterol and all these things. I was like, "Okay, so just because I look like I'm not about to die, that doesn't mean that the insides are not about" ... So I had to actually fix and change a lot of things.

Oh, good.

That's actually really good.

I think it's good. You're in a good place. You've already decided that you need to do something.

Yeah. It was a real wake-up call as well, though, because I've just always been like, "Oh, I'm skinny, whatever, I'm sure I'll be fine." Then the doctor was like, "No, and go get a colonoscopy." So I was like, "Okay."

Oh, wow. You know, you only need five doctors. If you have these five doctors and subscribe to them, you won't need any other ones. Dr. Sun, you just need about 15 minutes, vitamin D, very, very good for the skin and the fascia, the layer under the skin. Then you need Dr. Exercise, 15 minutes, just walk around or jump or do something, sex, whatever you need, 15 minutes a day, keep the blood flowing, heart rate going. Then you need Dr. Nutrition. You have to eat the right foods. There's such a controversy about what's good for you and what's not good for you, but I recommend eating for your blood type. You can find out what your blood type is and you can look it up. They'll have a whole diet for you according to your DNA, what you can digest according to how much stomach acid your ancestors have in your lining.

Yeah, yeah.

Yeah. So some people can do meat good, some people can't. So you got sun, exercise, nutrition. Dr. Sleep, sleeping for a certain amount of time helps the pineal gland to release the hormones that help you maintain your vital body from moment to moment. It's an oil that releases, and it only releases between the hours of midnight and 4:00 AM.

So it's actually about sleeping at those times, not just how much sleep you get?

Yes, because it helps to reset the circadian rhythm. It's the rhythm everything is on. The birds all wake up at a certain time for a reason. Everything is on a clock, and we are on the same clock, but we just kind of get off, and once we get off that clock, that's when we start having depression and tiredness and crankiness and other things.

It's crazy because we associate so much of the folklore and musicians and it's the late night and it's the witching hour when you create, and Prince would stay up all night doing these things. It's very counter to what you're talking about, about actually staying healthy.

Yeah, I guess the answer is balance. Once you run a marathon of that for six months, then your body automatically is going to want to recalibrate itself and get some rest and start to get the nutrients back and stuff. So we said sun, exercise, nutrients, sleep, and the last one is Dr. Spirit, some kind of meditation, self-reflection, self-awareness, reconnection with the source, whatever that may be to you, 15 minutes. Each of these things take 15 minutes per day. You can do them all day long.

Dr. Badu, I can do this.

Yes, you can.

Yeah, the sleep thing I really only realized more recently because, like I said, there's always this mythology about musicians staying up all night. The later you stay up, that's when the good ideas come, which is kind of bullshit. Then I would always pride myself on, no, I can go three hours of sleep. I wore it like a badge of honor, and then I suddenly realized-

Well, you did ask me, what are some tips about your health? But tips about making a good album is stay up all night, and, yes, I would've told you that for ... It's two different things.

Yeah. Now, I want the balance, I think.

That's right. That's what you want. You want the balance, and you want to eliminate all guilt. You don't want to feel guilty about anything.

Eliminate all guilt. Okay.

Yeah, you just want to try to... As soon as it pops into your mind, slap it out of there.

You know, for a Jew, the eliminating all guilt part is a little extra because we have to ... That's just inbred. But I can work on that.

Okay, I'll help you. Yeah.

Okay. Yeah, my next record is actually a cover of all my favorite songs that have really stayed inside me. It has to be a song that's haunted me so much, it's come back to me at multiple times over the last decades, and "Other Side of the Game" is just one of those songs for me. I love so many of your songs, but that one and the message and the melancholy and everything in there is just like ... I'm only going to cover it if I think that I can do it in a way that it deserves and respects, and I don't even know, I'm just messing around with it, instrumentally what it would be, as well now. But I just had to tell you that because I just-

You got it.

I'm in the middle of doing it right now.

I can't wait to hear the Mark Ronson songbook, the great Mark Ronson songbook.

It's such a personal song, too. I don't know if you ever had to talk about that song when the record came out or it's too personal to talk about, but maybe just because of my personal fandom?

Oh, well, it was one of those that didn't come from a personal experience, per se, but I've seen it so much, the dope man's bitch having to come and wait around, no matter what. The level of commitment and honor between the two people, just her side of the game because we heard the other. Yeah.

Great. Well, I really, really appreciate you sharing all that and all your time today and your doctorly advice and stories, legendary stories and shit. So thank you so much.

You're welcome. Let's do it again.

Okay.

What about FADER? We didn't talk about that too much, FADER covers. Oh, I was on the flip side of Bjork the first cover.

Oh, yeah. That's a fucking double bill.

Right. I was like, "That's my solar twin." We promised each other that we would save all of our money to buy the first hovercrafts.

Really?

Yeah.

Do you know Bjork a little bit. I guess you must have come into each other's orbit.

A little bit. Not much.

Yeah.

Yeah, not much. She's kind of like me. We were the original social distancers.

Also, all those pictures with the shaved head, was that the first time you outed the new look, or had you been doing that? I don't know.

Yeah. Onstage, I had been wearing it. But, yeah, for a magazine, it was first time I had appeared on anything without a head wrap.

Yeah. I was looking through that issue. I don't know if you actually had the physical issue, but it's such a snapshot of time. There's all these things like DJ Clue, things that don't even really seem that far away in my mind but are like another world. That was another era.

Yeah, it was another time. Yeah, it was. I'm glad I walked a path in musical time with you, though. I hope we'll do a lot more.

Yeah.

So thank you, guys, for joining us today for Uncovered, and we will ... It's not even my show.

Yes. Awesome. All right. Erykah, thanks so much.

I love you.

Love you. Thank you.

I love you, Rob Stone.

I do realize in some ways we're peers and she's only a few years older than me, but I was still a little shook during that whole interview, maybe because she's such an intimidating human, not intimidating like, "I'm going to beat you up," or having a feeling of superiority, but she can't really help it by way of her intelligence, her demeanor, her charm, her coolness, her enlightedness, et cetera. It is unnerving to talk to someone who functions on a higher plane like that. I don't think she's a higher life form. I just think she's figured it out a little better than the rest of us. It's hard to remember a time that the music of Erykah Badu was not influential in my life. I think many of us feel that way. She's just one of those artists that it's hard to imagine music without. It would also be very hard to imagine doing this FADER Uncovered podcast without getting an opportunity to talk to her. So thank you, Erykah, for being with us today. Take me out with the fade.

Erykah Badu on Mama’s Gun, being a doula, and making new music