Erykah Badu And The Cannabinoids
Best Buy Theater
Sunday, December 4
Better than: Church.
Erykah Badu doesn’t have hits—she has jams. Her songs may never be performed on Glee or take over the Billboard charts but when she opens her mouth to sing their first notes, at least one person will be moved to scream, “That. Is. My. Jam!”—or a variation thereof, as evidenced by the receiption to nearly every one of the 18 songs she and her nine-piece band the Cannabinoids performed last night at the Best Buy Theatre.
The Cannabinoids are Badu’s not-so-new band from Dallas. Together, they have been performing and making music since Badu was an unsigned singer/MC at Grambling State University. There are five producers/keyboardists: Symbolyc One (Kanye West’s “Power”), Picnictyme, Jah Born, Rob Free, and Badu’s longtime musical director R.C. Williams. Two DJs, Big Texas and A1, and one drummer, Cleon Edwards, round out the group. Last night’s show served as a somewhat formal introduction to the collective.
For nearly two hours, they treated her hit records like pieces of clay, kneading them into forms both unfamiliar and familiar. As she explained, “We have a set list, but we kind of making shit up as we go.” Try as she may to show off the collective, cool like Badu’s can only be contained for so long. As the band bobbed and weaved seamlessly through “On and On”, “…& On”, and “Apple Tree” with at least three different tempo changes, Badu sang, scatted, and beatboxed her way along, a virtuosic display of her chops. “Umm Hmm” began much like the recorded version that appears on her 2010 album New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh—until the band chopped and screwed the song in real time, and for an added dose of authenticity, Badu sang at least two octaves below her usual range.
But for all the remarkable skill on display, it wasn’t the vocal gymnastics that had the crowd eating out of Badu’s hands. When Badu broke into her 2007 hard-times anthem “That Hump” things got downright religious, her voice belting out, “Just trying to pay my rent, I can feel it coming down around me and these children.” On “Didn’t Cha Know”, the song’s last line “There will be a brighter day” morphed into a spaced-out, gospel song that should be added to every hymnal book.
When people want to list the best singers performing today, it better include Badu otherwise it’s null and void. It doesn’t matter where she is on that list; it doesn’t matter if it’s a list of the top three or five or 10 or more. Badu is on that list, and if she’s not No. 1 by herself, she’s tied for the top spot.
No single artist performing today is cooler than Badu, a very underrated attribute. Where Beyoncé is all about precision from high atop the stage, Badu last night got down and dirty, even admitting she flubbed a line at the end of “Bag Lady.” Where Jill Scott sings for her “sisters,” Badu never failed to shout out “brothers” in the audience. Where Adele is all about singing the right notes and making her voice soar, Badu sounded angelic even when she whispered. A Badu performance is as much about showmanship as a reverend preaching, which is to say she cares more about connecting with her audience than she does impressing them.
The people who were at last night’s show were already fans of Badu&30151;that much was clear. But by the end of the show she put a spell on everyone, and like churchgoers who are already saved but still take the walk down to the pulpit every Sunday, Badu’s fans renewed their faith in her.
Critical bias: My lust for Badu is sinful.
Overheard: “Yes, girl. Yes! YEAAASSSS!”
Random notebook dump: Badu does the cutest dances.
On and On
Everybody Love Me (Rap interlude)
Untitled Cannabinoids song
Untitled Cannabinoids song
I Want You
Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop)
Didn’t Cha Know
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 5, 2011