Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
One thing hasn't changed since Erykah Badu first grooved into crossover success in 1997: The singer/songwriter does things her way.
And that includes musical messages pulsating throughout her fourth project, the EP "Worldwide Underground," released Sept. 16 on Motown/Universal.
"I wanted to do something brave," Badu says. "I just didn't have enough songs at the time we started recording. So I grabbed five songs from my tour to put out a quick EP. But the project took longer as I began mixing, re-recording and finalizing songs.
"I have equipment on the tour bus. So every night I'd listen to music and to the show the night before, perfecting the next day's show. More ideas started coming, and by then I had eight songs. But it was already negotiated as an EP, so I don't call it an album."
The outing to which Badu refers is her national Frustrated Artist Tour 2003 A.D., staged earlier this year. It is another example of Badu following her muse. She used these performances to plug into her audiences' energy and to simultaneously amp her creative juices.
"I came up with the Frustrated Artist Tour in order to come up with the right material," Badu says. "That was the approach I took because I was having a hard time writing. I had a block."
The result is a 10-track project with a mix-tape vibe inspired by-and dedicated to-that tour's audiences. Front- and back-ended with a short intro and outro, the grab-bag of sound seamlessly winds its way from '70s R&B/soul and hip-hop to jazz and back again.
Lead single "Danger" is currently No. 34 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks. The EP, which joins "Baduizm" (1997), "Live" (1997) and "Mama's Gun" (2000) in the Badu catalog, just debuted at No. 3 on The Billboard 200.
There are nearly 50 minutes of "Worldwide Underground" music to sample, thanks to tracks that veer into eight- and 10-minute territory. That's in keeping with Badu's quest to make "music the star of this EP."
Reminiscent of the bass-driven R&B that pumps Badu's multi-platinum debut "Baduizm," "Worldwide Underground" also draws from the artist's hip-hop and jazz influences. The Donald Byrd-inspired "Think Twice," addressing fear in relationships, features trumpeter Roy Hargrove, who also contributes vocals.
Dead Prez slides in with its self-penned "Steady on the Grind" about society's ongoing struggles. Guitarist Lenny Kravitz electrifies "Back in the Day," which reflects "all that music we used to love growing up before they played the same six songs on the radio all day," Badu says.
Letting "vocals get in where they fit," Badu is supported by China Blac, Zap Mama and Caron Wheeler (Soul II Soul). Joining her on bonus track "Love of My Life Worldwide" -- a nod to Sugarhill Records' female rap trio Sequence -- are Queen Latifah, Bahamadia and ex-Sequence member Angie Stone (Angie B.).
During a year that has witnessed Badu winning Grammy, BET and Soul Train Lady of Soul awards for her work with Common on "Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop)," it still comes down to just one thing for the artist: the music.
"I'm always working on music in different ways," she says when asked about future projects. "And perhaps I'll do more acting [she had a role in "The Cider House Rules"]. But I'm just continuing to perfect my art, my craft, any way I can."
Excerpted from the Oct. 4, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.
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