Since Erykah Badu released her 2008 album New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), a new America has actually emerged. But while that record focused on global change, her new disc of philosophical love funk, New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), which comes out today, is concerned more with the wondrous world inside Badu's own head (see a video from the new album, in which Badu strips down to her skivvies, here). The Dallas-based soul singer–songwriter-actress-director-Twitterati told us the album cycle may well turn into a trilogy — "New Amerykah Part Three might be being conceived right now" — and opened up about her appreciation for that "thang" and Lady Gaga's wardrobe.
You recorded some of the new record at Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios — is it fair to say your album cover feels a little Hendrix-inspired, too?
Because of the purple? That's that haze, that funk color. That's the official color of funk. Funk is purple and black.
You've become sort of a Twitter goddess.
I am [laughs]. It's as if you've met angels that you can't see or touch, but there's a plethora of information and love and energy that you get from these things. I guess that's what they mean when they talk about the Age of Aquarius, the Age of Technology. We're witnessing evolution right now. Hey, I am an analog girl. I can function very well in a digital world.
And Twitter helped you get Paul McCartney to clear the Wings sample for "Gone Baby, Don't Be Long" on the new disc.
I was amazed. I had nine hours to get a sample cleared. It was about 11 p.m. and I got busy. The first tweet was, "Looking for Paul McCartney, if I don’t get the sample cleared, then there's no chance for the song to be on the album — go." And after that, people just started tweeting and helping me. Nine a.m., I woke up and my attorney called and said, "Hey, some kind of way, this sample just got cleared."
You sang on the Wu-Tang Clan's "The Heart Gently Weeps," which also sampled the Beatles. Do you have a special relationship to the band?
I do. Not only do I acknowledge it's some of the greatest music that's ever been written by some of the most creative and sonically pleasing voices, it's part of my DNA — nostalgia, growing up listening to it. I can remember where I was or how something smelled every time I hear it.
How do you write your lyrics?
Music is what brings it out of me. I've never written lyrics without music — that would be poetry. It's the music first, then I hum in a rhythmic, syncopated way. The next part is listening to it and decoding what I'm saying. It's almost like a lump of clay and carving away at it, revealing what's under it.
They call Mary J. Blige the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul and you the Queen of Neo-Soul. When you two perform on Lilith Fair this summer, will you have some sort of Queen-off?
Oh no. I'm only in competition with my last level and nobody can do it like Mary J. Blige. And I don't consider myself the Queen of Neo-Soul. I don't even know what neo-soul is. I'll be the Queen of Neo-Funk, though. That thang. That's what I want to be the queen of — that thang, with an "a" — that funk thang.
Were you in the studio with Lil Wayne when he recorded his part of "Jump Up in the Air (Stay There)"?
Of course. He is anointed with this gift. He listened to the song a couple of times, he went into the booth and said some things, and that was the song. And after I listened to it, it was brilliant, and when I listened a second, third time, it was even more brilliant.
What do you think about Lady Gaga? Like you, she connects images and music.
I think she's a visual genius. She's creative and fearless and beautiful and everything that an artist should be, visually. I don't even know her music, but I am fulfilled by watching her evolve and create and fearlessly stun us over and over again. Whether I like the outfit or not, I am totally inspired to be me because she is totally herself. It's infectious. I think after all, that's all we are responsible for: be honest, be you — that's our responsibility in life. Anything else is extra.