The second artist to join the Serato Icon Artist Series, Erykah Badu is a musician, innovator, selector, visionary, and teacher; a true artist who lives and breathes the Serato ethos.
From her debut album “Baduizm” through to her 2010 release “New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), Erykah Badu has redefined modern soul. Drawing comparisons along the way to many of the greats, including Billie Holiday, she layers her varied musical influences together to create a sound that has crowned her ‘Queen of Neo-Soul’.
More recently, Badu has been on the journey as a DJ, one she embarked on a long time ago through her love of hip hop music and it’s culture.
“When I was in the 8th or 9th grade, hip hop was becoming mainstream in radio… in Dallas, Texas where I’m from. That was in the 80s. Hip hop really emerged in the 70s, with DJs like Kool Herc, Red Alert, DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Spinderella from Salt ‘n’ Pepa; all of these people were very inspiring to me, because they were the people who conducted feelings.
“I expanded and explored more and more as I became a b-girl, because the world knows DJing and rapping is something you do, but the great KRS-1 said ‘Hip Hop is something you live’. Once it’s in you, it’s in you.”
As hip hop evolved over the years, so did Erykah Badu’s relationship with it. Even after hugely successful albums and international tours, Badu was still hungry to transcend the music and reach out to those around her through the experience of DJing. Enter DJ Loretta Brown, the alter ego that fuels this desire to personally connect through music.
“Right now, we’re in 2012AD where the DJ is now the star, because of things like Serato and the need of the tribe – that’s the people – to feel good and to feel the music. I wanted some of that, and I decided to lend my time to DJ. I’ve always done after parties after shows and things, but I wanted people to come, listen and feel good. It’s not about what they like or they don’t like, it’s about how they feel. And that’s the Selector’s job, the DJ is the selector and I’m very proud to be a She‑J.”
The connection between singer and audience differs from the connection between the DJ and the crowd, and it brings a whole new musical world for her to explore and her audience to experience.
“When I DJ… I’m paying attention to my mixes, I’m paying attention to my choices and selections. That’s my main focus. I do it fearlessly, because I never underestimate the audiences’ ability to feel. Music is the sixth element; it brings nostalgia, it brings healing and it moves us.
“It’s different from when I’m on stage live singing – I’m expressing emotions and feelings; performing is therapy for me. But DJing is allowing me the chance to be free, with no expectations, especially from myself. It’s just about having fun at the party, and I like having fun at the party.”
Freestyle and improvisation is an important element in Badu’s DJ sets and the traditional hangups that come with being a DJ fall away to allow for a more organic, fun approach to performing.
“I put absolutely no preparation into my sets at all. When I get to the club, I peep the audience, scope the atmosphere, I listen to what the DJs did before me and I just basically remember that it’s about having fun and I free myself enough to begin.”
For Erykah, this approach is key to the success of any set. It’s admirable that in the DJ industry, where skills and image are constantly judged by peers and critics alike, that Badu focusses on the selections and the energy that a DJ creates by simply playing songs that you love to people who want to hear them.
“The DJ is the weatherman; the DJ basically dictates what the weather is – what we play is how people feel.
“To me, what makes a DJ a good DJ is that he or she pays attention to the crowd and their movement, response and applause. And the applause doesn’t come in the form of an applause, it comes in the form of a groove. A good DJ feels his or her groove and eventually gets a flow and begins to connect with the music which connects to the audience. In my case, I’m a selector – I select what I like. People who come to the shows either love it or they learn it.
The future looks bright for Erykah Badu and Loretta Brown, two artists working together to weave live performance and DJing into a rich textured experience for people around the world to enjoy. Seeing Erykah Badu DJ as Loretta Brown will by no means be a traditional DJ set, but it will be unique.
“There’s a big difference between being a DJ and being a selector. I don’t really even know if I consider myself a DJ because DJing is a skill and an art form that is highly technical. There’s scratching involved, there’s blending involved, there’s accuracy and syncopation involved.
“Those things I’ve learned over time, but as a Selector, you’re just narrating the emotions of the crowd. I am becoming a good DJ – I’m a great selector.”
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