It’s no secret singer Erykah Badu marches to her owntheme music. From 1997, when her debut album Baduizm was released, to lastyear when the filming of her video for the song Window Seat, generated tonsof controversy, Erykah has proven time and again she is not afraid to march toher own drum beat.
She has said in the past she doesn’t subscribe to“groupthink,” defined by Wikipedia.com as, “a psychological phenomenon thatoccurs within groups of people. It is the mode of thinking that happens whenthe desire for harmony in a decision-making group overrides a realisticappraisal of alternatives. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach aconsensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas orviewpoints. The primary socially negative cost of groupthink is the loss ofindividual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking.”
If she cares what other people think about her as a person,her style of dress or her music, it doesn’t show in her actions.
Erykah will never be labeled a pop star; she doesn’t use herbody or looks to sell her music – and she doesn’t have to because her voice isenough.
While some may consider her weird, I have always defendedher as just being different – in a good way. And that’s one of the many reasonswhy I absolutely love her. Out of all of the artists I listen to, embrace andadmire, Erykah has been at the top of my all-time favorite list for quite awhile. Sheis someone I can relate to, respect and appreciate for not only being her ownwoman, but individual as well.
Which brings me to her “Welcome to the Human Brain andScience of Addiction” show Dec. 9, 2011 at The Warfield Theatre in SanFrancisco. Featuring her group The Cannabinoids, Erkyah took the crowd on ajourney some may have found difficult to follow. Others, myself included, foundthe show to be typically Erykah – unexpected, eclectic and far ahead of anythingwe could have imagined.
According to Erykah, this group of individuals, “herbrothers” as she called them, go way back to 1992 AD when Erkyah Badu was ina group called Erykah Free while also working in a coffee shop.
Erykah continued her story with a tidbit about the time whenshe was matriculating through college (Grambling State University), where hercousin sent her a cassette tape (remember those?) containing music thatinspired her to write Appletree. Another band member supplied her withanother beat, and she wrote On & On, the first release of Baduizm.
Consisting of all men (seven total), and Erykah, The Cannabinoids is a live band whose musical instruments consisted of laptops, turntables, several keyboards and drums. There weren’t clearly defined background singers, albeitsome band members lent their voices to songs here and there. Just thinking about the lack of real musicalinstruments (and the model brain on display in front of the stage), I shouldhave realized then the show was going to a new frontier.
Each song performance started out as the track you knew fromthe album, however, it then quickly evolved into the new Lowdown Loretta Brown,(Erykah’s DJ alias) remix. Sometimes challenging to follow, it still worked beautifullybecause the new arrangement gave the old some a fresh appeal.
The chopped and screwed Appletree flowed into … & On, where Erykah repeated the lyric “what good do your words do if they can’tunderstand you,” several times. I couldbe wrong, but I think she was sending a message.
Recognizing the “superstars” in the house (that would be theaudience), she dropped Umm Hmm to a really slow beat, and mellowed out Didn’tCha Know, which had an almost gospel feel. Stating this was one of her favorite songs,Erkyah went on to say, “There will be a brighter day if you believe in brighterdays. Believe it not because I told you; believe in yourself as I believe inyou.”
Although she mixed A Tribe Called Quest’s Bonita Applebum into Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop), Erykah pretty much stayed true to theoriginal version. Same goes for Danger.
When it was time for Window Seat, she toyed with ouremotions by playing a few notes, stopping the song and then moving on tosomething else. The audience clearly thought she wasn’t going to sing WindowSeat, but she eventually came back around to it.
Someone in the audience must have screamed something about Tyrone because she looked down, pointed and said, “No, you call Tyrone!” Erykah turnedaround to her band and they then launched into the track.
After a new song (several of which were performed throughoutthe entire show) from the forthcoming Cannabinoids album, and a funky version of Bag Lady, the night came to a close with the lyrics from the performance of NextLifetime, on her Live album.
There also were some comedic moments in the show with Erykahthrowing out one liners such as “Money can’t buy me love, but it can keep me insome fresh shit.” When introducing Delta 9, the baby of the group as well asthe drummer, the audience went wild when she said it was her son Seven. “I knowya’ll want that to be really bad,” she said through laughter.
Erykah then went on to say Delta 9 was age 17. Turning tohim, she said, “That should get you a lot of pussy. You owe me.”
I think the best way to sum up this show is futuristic with a psychedelic feel.There may be a day when live shows don’t have actual guitar players, bassistsor saxophonists, but laptops as substitutes. Let’s hope that future neverhappens because I rather like the sounds of live instruments and the voices of backupsingers.
Footnote: It’s fitting that one of the definitions of Cannabinoids is “any of the chemical compounds that are the active principles of marijuana.”Causing feelings of relaxation, there were enough individuals enjoying the drugfeaturing Cannabinoids that I’m sure those that weren’t partaking couldn’t helpbut become relaxed. The air was so thick with marijuana smoke that I left with aheadache, while Erykah jokingly (or not) asked if she could get some.