Sun | Oct 1, 2023

Erykah Badu basks in new era of reinvention and expansion

Collaborates with Italian fashion house but feet firmly planted in music

Published:Sunday | June 4, 2023 | 12:16 AM
Erykah Badu attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute benefit gala on Monday, May 1, in New York.
Erykah Badu attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute benefit gala on Monday, May 1, in New York.
Erykah Badu arrives for the Off-White ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2023 fashion collection presented in Paris in September, 2022.
Erykah Badu arrives for the Off-White ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2023 fashion collection presented in Paris in September, 2022.
Erykah Badu poses for photographers upon arrival at the Valentino ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2023 fashion collection presented in Paris on October 2, 2022.  The four-time Grammy winner released a 42-piece capsule collection with Italian fashion house Marn
Erykah Badu poses for photographers upon arrival at the Valentino ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2023 fashion collection presented in Paris on October 2, 2022. The four-time Grammy winner released a 42-piece capsule collection with Italian fashion house Marni last month.
Erykah Badu attends the 8th Annual Essence Black Women in Music in Los Angeles on February 9, 2017.
Erykah Badu attends the 8th Annual Essence Black Women in Music in Los Angeles on February 9, 2017.
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New York (AP):

Erykah Badu has unintentionally occupied the role of culture shifter and influencer for 20-plus years, well before it became a trendy, social media descriptor. Her impact has vibrated throughout music and fashion, and the Green Eyes songstress sees it clearly.

“I can hear my influence in music. I can see my influence style,” explained the four-time Grammy winner. “I hear my words resonated all over the world…So yeah, I can see it.”

That cultural cache may be why her collaboration with Italian fashion house Marni has been so anticipated. The Marni x Erykah Badu capsule was released in select US Marni boutiques last month. The 42-piece collection features women’s ready-to-wear garments, including dresses, accessories and footwear, accented with handmade leather patchwork, heavy wools, bold sequins and lush velvets. Badu, 52, who is known for her creative and eccentric style, was hands-on in all aspects.

“I’ve worked the same way in every area of my life; on stage I’m doing sound, I’m doing lighting, set design, costume, hair, make-up,” said Badu, whose 18-year-old daughter, Puma, modelled for the campaign. “I’m involved in everything. I am a creator. I am a visionary…we put those things together and came up with something really creative.”

Claire Sulmers, CEO of the influential style blog Fashion Bomb Daily, says Badu’s versatility has made her a muse for designers.

“She is a trendsetter, but she’s always marched to the beat of her own drum...she can work anything, from a designer you might find at a flea market, to a runway,” said Sulmers.

As Badu enters the fashion industry and launches other business ventures, the singer-songwriter is keeping her feet firmly planted in music, with a tour on the horizon. In a wide-ranging video interview with The Associated Press, Badu discussed her businesses and creativity.

Badu has helped bring babies into the world for friends, family and even celebrity mothers, like singers Summer Walker and Teyana Taylor, stating the relationships happen organically, and she only agrees to be a doula if she can dedicate the time.

A champion for black women and free thinking, she’s not only in an era of reinvention, but expansion. She’s entered the cannabis industry partnering with the Cookies brand. Badu oversaw everything from the marketing to the packaging for her That Badu line, which includes pre-rolls packaged to resemble tampons.

Draped in Afrocentric garb, including statuesque headwraps and ankh jewelry, Badu teleported into the music scene in 1997 with her debut album, Baduizm. It earned her a Best New Artiste Grammy nomination and a Best R&B album win. A pioneer of the ‘90s neo-soul movement with contemporaries like Maxwell, D’Angelo and Jill Scott, Badu crafted soulful classics like On & On, Tyrone, Bag Lady, Didn’t Cha Know and Window Seat. Her last official project was 2015’s But You Caint Use My Phone mixtape.

“I’m always working on new music. I don’t know when I’ll put it out, but I’m waiting for the right time,” said the 2018 Soul Train Legend honoree. “I like to feel necessary for my real audience. My real audience is trees and wind and rain, air — ancestors and things like that.”

Badu says music is the star that her other businesses orbit around.

“Everything is vibration and sound, from the sound of the birds that I’ve heard since I was a child… (to) the clothes I wear — the clothes in my Marni line all have bells on them,” explained the Dallas native, who still resides in the city. “So, if I associate everything with music, it’s very easy for me to create...there’s a variety of things I listen to throughout the day, from wind chimes in the morning to Brent Faiyaz in the afternoon to Bach — I mean, there’s just so many different things. I just love music and frequency. It is my therapy.”

One of her most impactful musical contributions didn’t come from a hit, but from the lesser-known Master Teacher Medley on 2008’s New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) album. Produced by Shafiq Husayn, that song is largely credited with reintroducing the term ‘stay woke’ — with collaborator Georgia Anne Muldrow chanting those words — to a new generation.

Badu, who has an upcoming Funko Pop! figure that sold out during pre-order, is prepping for a highly anticipated 25-date tour kicking off this month. Yasiin Bey, the hip-hop star formerly known as Mos Def, will join her for the Unfollow Me tour.