There’s a YouTube clip of Erykah Badu’s 1997 Unplugged performance (below). In it she opens with “Rimshot,” walking onto stage with a vase of flowers draped in African-flavored fabrics, including a headdress that falls down her back. She’s got on lots of jewelry: bangles, cuffs, rings, armbands. She features the ankh, she’s spiritual and worldly in a decidedly un-Christian manner. And “Rimshot” is an appropriate opener, being the opening track to her stunning debut in the same year, Baduizm, which she’ll perform (seemingly in its entirety) at the Electric Factory Saturday night.
You know what’s exciting, too? The record has some light and tight Philly connections to it. You know Badu and The Roots are thick. Well they had a few hands in the production pot on Baduizm, and bits of it were recorded here in Philadelphia at Sigma Studios. It earned her a Grammy, one of her 19 nominations and four wins. Two she won for her debut: Best R&B Album and for the game-changing single, “On and On.”
In its video she’s some kind of weird nanny/housekeeper/slave/cinderella. She picks up the house, braids hair, rangles livestock and falls in shitty mud (”Damn, y’all feel that?”). It’s the kind of thing she’s at home with, she’s comfortable with – confronting the public with the unavoidable glare of the truth. Generations have been messed with, years of struggle have gone down, women are treated like garbage still and racism is real. But it’s not all pain and strife. It’s also so much about love. And about thought. Everyone remembers “Most intellects they don’t believe in God / But they fear us just the same,” right? In the Unplugged clip she slightly alters the chorus with: “They fear me just the same” and “They fear you just the same.” A woman like her was a welcome breath of fresh air almost two decades ago – a jazzy, strong-willed black woman who’s climbing charts with lyrics about intellectualism, feminism, mysticism and skepticism about the American way? Yes yes yes yes.
“Next Lifetime” is a bittersweet and devastatingly relatable experience of a woman who’s friend and confidant wants to devote himself to her; he’s in love. She’s spoken for and yet can’t deny that there’s an attraction, a chemistry that could be so much more than a friendship. The soul in this track is deep and with songs like these, she firmly planted herself alongside a couple of the best records of an emerging genre: neo-soul had a new queen with D’Angelo (Brown Sugar was 1995) and Maxwell (Urban Hang Suite was 1996) in her court.
“Appletree” is another jazz-funky number that prominently displays her jazz-schooled, scat-capable and controlled vocals. It also features a groove that’d fit nicely on a Guru track, a Roots record or a Mos Def jawn. Here’s where you can really see the comparisons to Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Nina Simone. She’s like a jazz siren who’s voice sounds like it oscillates between chaotic, emotionally-channeled wails and breath-controlled, hiccupy syncopation.
Baduizm’s almost 15 years old. Great records from her came after, of course, as did other outstanding collaborations. She slayed it, clearly, on The Roots’ landmark Things Fall Apart single “You Got Me,” for which she earned another Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. And when she dated Common, their “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)” won Best R&B song in 2003. Then, out of nowhere, she dropped two New Amerykah records in 2008 and 2010 that were mind-blowing testaments to her lifelong devotion to neo-soul, funk, jazz, hip-hop and R&B and all their weird and mystic connections.
But on this night in Philadelphia, in addition to, hopefully, a few little surprises sprinkled in, she’ll do Baduizm all the way. No doubt with a full-ass band: at least 10 pieces – backup singers, brass, strings, pianist, percussion. Gotta have a “rimshot.” She’s moved beyond headdresses and ankhs, but her new incarnation of image is an afro and she’ll almost definitely sport one for some time and snatch it off her head at an opportune moment. Maybe during the daring “Window Seat,” the filming of said single’s video saw her stripping naked on the mall where JFK was shot and actually getting cited for indecency as a result. She’s the real deal. She’s got an old, musically-transcendent heart and a firm, solid grasp on what makes soul music that’s stirring, funky, modern and soothing. She’s the closest thing we’ve got to a priestess of R&B – the wise godmother of Frank Ocean and A$AP Rocky.
Today’s the day a new issue hits the stands with a music cover story I wrote about Tommy Joyner and Jamie Lokoff’s takeover of “The Studio” on Seventh Street over by the Electric Factory. Larry Gold’s the man and his interview was a treat. Do head over to the PW site for a read and Tweet it and Like it on Facebook and comment on it and all that.
Here’s an excerpt:
““The studio business isn’t just about gear,” Joyner says. “It’s about the experience. We try to make [musicians] feel good while they’re here. We try to make them feel as comfortable and relaxed and inspired as possible, so that they can create the best possible version of themselves on tape. And if they do it well, that makes more people want to come here.”
This month marks the first anniversary of MilkBoy’s move to its new Center City recording studio on Seventh Street adjacent to the Electric Factory, a facility formerly called simply The Studio. Before they took it over, it was already arguably the greatest studio in Philadelphia. Now that it’s MilkBoy the Studio? There’s no argument.
Those who know MilkBoy primarily at street level, who identify the name with its two coffee shop/live-music venues in Ardmore and Center City, may be surprised to learn that its behind-the-scenes business as a destination recording studio for hit musicians the world ‘round is the older, larger part of the operation. After spending the ‘90s in a space above Zapf’s Music in North Philly, Joyner and Lokoff moved to a bigger studio in Ardmore, where they thrived for more than a decade, hosting recording sessions by the likes of Dave Matthews as well as countless smaller, independent acts.
In 2005, deciding an all-ages performance venue would be a logical addition to the company, they opened the homey MilkBoy Coffee in Ardmore. Slowly but surely, they came to realize that long-term success and stability for a live-music scene would be found in the city itself, and in 2011, they built MilkBoy’s slick café at 11th and Chestnut, blending coffee shop and bar beneath a second-story performance space.
And just as they were getting ready to open the new joint’s doors, Larry Gold came knocking. ”
We don’t even really care about Kreayshawn, who she’s opening for, but tomorrow night should be a most-bangin’ night of dancing and sass. Plus our girl Guns Garcia’s opening it all up to get the house warmed up. We’d go just to see Rye Rye “shake that shit to the ground.” Have you seen the video for “Dance“? Amazing stuff. TICKETS NOW.
Tomorrow night’s a night that should be fascinating. We got pretty excited when Nas and Lauryn Hill announced a tag-team night at the Electric Factory last month. Naturally, it was with a tiny lil’ scoche of suspiciousness. Ms. Hill doesn’t have the best reputation these days: lateness, crazy talk, erratic performances, etc. It’s not really true for Nas mostly because he doesn’t have a track record of crazy. But together, they gave us “If I Ruled The World.”
And remember how Lauryn Hill, once upon a time, was a bright-burning talent back in the day? She made Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit one of the best damn heartwarming-nun-based-urban-music-success-story sleeper of the ’90s. Watching her sing “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” is a moment that makes us so confused: she’s friggen’ bursting with talent and looks so earnestly modest, versatile and gifted. And yet. What happened to her? That Unplugged record? Eesh. Even seeing her sing live now, it’s a little bit of a mind-eff. You want to bow before the queen of the Fugees (Fact: The Score is flawless, actually, so’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill) and worship at the shrine of SA2, but then she doesn’t even sing songs the way she wrote them. Seems like it happens more than we’d care to admit: singers who’ve been singing the same catalogue for years and sing all around the lyrics with ooohs and ahhhs, weird note-runs and lots of, ya know, ‘feeling it.’ Let’s hope that doesn’t happen tomorrow night.
If we get taken back to the ’90s tomorrow it’ll be like a gift from the days of MTV-playing-music-videos all day. Get a ticket, pronto.
Back in October, The Walkmen cancelled an October Electric Factory date. No real reason given, a Facebook post said “for some dumb reason.” At least they did it like six days ahead of time. Well, seems they feel pretty bad about it. Maybe because of the onslaught of boos and jeers that followed said Facebook announcement. Turns out they’re gonna make a meal out of it for salty fans. Look at what the above photo was accompanied by:
“As we realize it’s a headache for everyone in Philadelphia who bought tickets to the cancelled October show, and we’ve come to realize it’s never a good idea to tick off a large group of our neighboring Philadelphians, we would like to invite anyone with a cancelled ticket stub to our soundcheck at the Union Transfer on January 11 for spaghetti and meatballs prepared by the band and served by local rockers, and cheap canned beer. Probably around 5 or so… we will get back to you with more details. If you don’t actually have the stub you can just write in and plead your case–I mean it’s not THAT sweet of a deal, so the restrictions are sort of lax. Potential servers may include (but none of whom have been asked): Mazarin, Fleet Foxes, Blood Feathers, War on Drugs, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Kurt Vile–(don’t actually this last guy, but figured he might be into spaghetti). There’s a very good chance that none of these people may show up. The band will sound check with half-assed versions of songs like “The Scientist” by Coldplay and “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour…and maybe the “Fix You” song by Coldplay too…and maybe “Salsbury Hill”. Casual attire. Please RSVP to this Facebook page. (This is my first Facebook post though, so I honestly don’t even know if that’s possible.) See you there!”
YES! Fantastic! Get a ticket to the UT show here and now.
I was super happy to see an ANTM photoshoot (…yeah, I still watch. I can’t help myself) a couple of weeks ago with L.A.’s Lucha Vavoom, the enormously entertaining lucha libre/burlesque/comedy group with the motto of “sexo y violencia.” They’re in town tonight at the Electric Factory, check ‘em out! But in the meantime, check out this shot of contestant Liz looking batshit insane.