Erykah Badu has had a handful of nicknames throughout her 13-year career, such as "MC Apples" and "Loretta Brown." But as a family woman, she should think about adopting one more: "Elastigirl."
"I got the Partridge Family. I got the hip-hop Incredibles," she laughed as she drove her kids home in Dallas.
Ms. Badu had just come from spending a little time grocery shopping, and she had all her kids piled into the ride. There's Seven, who is 12; his dad is Andre 3000. Then you have 5-year-old Puma, whose pop is a rap legend himself, the D.O.C. Baby Mars, who just turned 1, is the child of Erykah and Jay Electronica, the man pegged to be hip-hop's new rhyme messiah by the likes of Diddy, Q-Tip, Nas and producer Just Blaze.
"They do all kinds of things," Badu, who turns 39 this month, said of her clan. "The whole family. My sister sings background for me. My brother is on the road with me; he does merch. He also writes. He's helped me write a couple songs. He was a writer on 'Danger' and a whole bunch of different things. My mother has given me pointers on what to do and what not to do — mostly what not to do. My children, Mars is gonna be 1. If she bobs her head [to one of my songs], I know it's the joint. Puma sings with me; she'll be on this album. Seven is a lot like Andre 3000, his father. If he gives the nod of approval, then I know it's the joint. He may be playing drum machine on this album too."
New Amerykah, Part Two: Return of the Ankh — Badu's fifth opus — comes out March 30. It's another eclectic mix of Badu's chutzpah-drenched vocals and funky instrumentals.
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"The object is to sonically narrow it down enough to make it have a feel," the Dallas native explained. "Make everything feel related. Part of the album was left brain; the other part was right brain. [2008's] New Amerykah, Part One: 4th World War was what I was thinking more socially, politically, analytically. New Amerykah, Part Two was what I was feeling inside as a human being, as a spiritual being, as a black woman, as a person, as an artist. It comes across musically, because sonically, the ones on this one — Return of the Ankh — are more melodic. There's more piano, more emotionally feeling, evoking pieces. That's what it feels like to me. In the process, I had so much great stuff I was ready to put out that I connected them together."
Badu started writing her New Amerykah series all the way back in "2003 going into 2004. Maybe it was 2004 going into 2005," she said. More than 100 songs have been authored and recorded by Badu since then.
She can pinpoint when one song from the new LP was penned; "Love" was co-produced by her late friend J Dilla. "September 19," she said. "That's Jay Electronica's birthday. That had to be [written] 2007, September 19.
"Watch it run," she said with excitement when thinking about how the record must have "legs" to be featured on an album three years after it was authored. "Watch it levitate."
Just like she can't imagine making an LP without Dilla, there are two other men who have to be around for every Badu body of work: James Poyser and the Roots' ?uestlove, whom she always calls by his real name, Ahmir.
"Ahmir is my brother," she said. "We are very close. We've been together through all of my childbirths, all of my relationships, all of my albums from the very beginning. I lived with him at one point in Philadelphia. He comes to Dallas, he comes to 'The Wheel' — my house has a name. It's called 'The Wheel.'
"James Poyser is my studio husband," she added. "What I mean by that is, I don't do an album without him being present. We are partners, production-wise. There's no deal-breaker in that marriage. We met in Philadelphia when I was working on [1997's] Baduizm. 'Otherside of the Game' was our first creation together. We have not been able to top it yet. That's what we trying to do. Even though we've created a lot of beautiful things, our first child is the one."
She's just joking about their collaboration. "That's satire," she clarified. "We're never trying to repeat or top anything. It's fun working with him, because he can read my mind, and I can read his. I don't read music. I never have. Yet I can describe what I'm trying to hear. He is able to bang it out. He's able to do that."
Badu has production credit on each song of her album. Some of her studio cohorts include 9th Wonder, Madlib and Karriem Riggins.
Badu, who travels eight months out of the year performing, has been testing and fine-tuning some material from the album in front of ticket-buyers. Not only does she love getting dressed in costumes and being in front of live crowds, it's where she makes the bulk of her income. "Jump in the Air" with Lil Wayne and Bilal was leaked several weeks ago, and it will be a bonus/ Web-only tack.
No matter what accolades she receives from her profession, being a mother is her top priority. "I do it all the time," she said about doing her own grocery shopping. "I live in Dallas, Texas, so I don't have a lot of distractions. I'm a mommy first."
New Amerykah, Part Two: Return of the Ankh track list, according to Badu's record label:
1. "20 Feet Tall"
2. "Window Seat" (featuring Ahmir "?uestove" Thompson, Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner, James Poyser and Kirsten Agnesta)
4. "Get Money"
5. "Don't Be Long"
7. "Umm Hmm"
8. "Fall in Love"
9. "Incense" (instrumental)
10. "Out My Mind Just in Time (Part 1) (Undercover Over-Lover)"
11. "Out My Mind Just in Time (Part 2)"
» Bonus: "Jump in the Air" (featuring Lil Wayne and Bilal)
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