Erykah Badu is living proof that her music holds historic value. But, her performance last night is also proof that she’s a worthy fixture in the swift-paced industry.
On Friday evening before Erykah Badu and her live band took the stage at Prospect Park’s Lena Horne’s Bandshell there were looming feelings of restlessness.
Over a thousand eager fans young and old gathered at Prospect Park’s Lena Horne’s Bandshell for the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn Festival to see Badu, who’s become synonymous with the subgenre neo-soul.
There’s a Baptist saying, “He’ll come in his own way,” which is usually uttered before a minister takes to the pulpit to deliver their sermon. The moments prior to Erykah’s on-stage arrival were reminiscent of this. When she arrived at nearly 10 p.m., it was as if parishioners at a church were eagerly anticipating a message that would leave them feeling spiritually rejuvenated.
Accompanied by backup singers including the talented vocalists Durand Bernarr and Terron Austin, she began her set with “Hello,” the excellent reboot of Todd Rundgren/Isley Brothers “Hello It’s Me” from 1970. This sets the tone for what’s to come: a show presenting just how dire the state of mainstream R&B is. The confidence and lyricism she shares on stage during “Hello” is so authentic that it is the polar opposite of the forced melodic and rap-centric state rhythm and blues is stuck in right now (sans a few artists such as Joyce Wrice, Ravyn Lenae, and Sinéad Harnett).
Baduizm, Badu’s 1997 debut is nothing less than a classic. Its significance was exemplified when Erykah leaned into it as she asked the crowd if she could take it back to the album. With their blessing, she immediately segued into “On & On” and offered a delicious take on the introspective single. The timelessness of the track also rings off as she sings it delicately. The notion of the world spinning swiftly and lessons being learned still are mantras the crowd sang eagerly: “The world keeps turning… Peace and blessings manifest with every lesson learned.”
“Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip-Hop)” also evoked similar sentiments from fans at the festival, many were earnestly reciting the lyrics. During this moment, the live band expertly fed off of the exuberant energy of Badu, the backup singers, and the fans. By the time she arrived at “Times’ A Wastin” off her exquisite sophomore album, it became apparent that the church of Erykah Badu was reaching its apex. The exploratory and melodically driven song took up space during the set and was well-received.
Her rendition of “Other Side of The Game” came later but it was a compelling section of the performance. Themes of hustling reflect in “work ain’t honest but it pays the bills,” a line that hits many square in the chest. Hearing this song off her debut was yet another example of Badu’s sheer ability to showcase why she’s a definitive neo-soul archetype.
New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) gets some shine too by way of “Window Seat.” Puma Curry, Erykah’s daughter joined Badu and provided the softness that the beautiful song emits. Her mother watches as she holds her own, and then she hops up to the center of the stage and begins her soulful rendition of it. When she returns to Baduizm for “Next Lifetime” a song that lyrically expounds upon the sweetness of a situation it’s almost expected. This song is a supreme selection for the set that’s pushed many songs that are the core of her artistry.
The closer “Bag Lady” is freeing and downright fulfilling. Though her sermon is coming near an end, she brilliantly keeps the crowd fixated on the lyrical content of this Mama’s Gun single. She injects a bit of pathos when she says music connects those of different “races,” “genders” and creeds. Badu declares
urges her fans to repeat her as she says “pack light” before she closes her set. This is so they know to leave their worries, concerns, and stressors behind at Prospect Park.
Quality neo-soul and R&B trumps the so-called “toxic R&B” that is being shelled out via the mainstream music market. Badu is living proof that her music holds historic value. But, her performance last night is also proof that she’s a worthy fixture in the swift-paced industry.