Songstress Erykah Badu first brought her own brand of spirituality, sensuality and street smarts into the R&B/hip-hop charts over a decade ago with her debut album Baduizm. Her sound, managing to speak to the worlds of both hip-hop and soul, as then predicted has proven to be something of long-term substance, earning her the moniker "Queen of Neo-Soul."
Now a Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, producer, DJ, actress, activist, designer, mother, midwife and more, Ms. Badu is on a constant creative roll. Her most recent concentrations are on completing an album with The Cannabinoids and filming a video with Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips for their cover of Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face."
She is also constantly on tour and, fittingly, is going to be performing at this weekend's Free Press Summer Fest, both with The Cannabinoids and as a guest with the Flaming Lips. Houston, we have a solution.
The Cannabinoids, crafted by Badu herself, are an improvisational superband that includes producers S1, Picnictyme and R.C. Williams, DJs A1 and Big Texas, drummer Cleon Edwards and longtime Badu collaborators Rob Free and Jah Born.
Badu and Rob Free, A1, Jah Born and R.C. Williams of The Cannabinoids managed to carve out some time from their busy lives to talk about their creative process and recent projects.
Rocks Off: What brought about the creation of The Cannabinoids? This isn't a new group, correct?
Erykah Badu: Yeah, we know each other very well. We got born when we produced "On and On" for Baduizm. Actually, Free and I started out together as a group. That was the original Baduizm. It was called Erykah's Tree, and we produced several tracks on that album.
Free also produced several tracks on a lot of different albums and projects...I mean, I know them all very well, but most of them have produced on my earlier projects. That's how we know each other, and that's why we kind of got together, because we wanted to continue, you know, evolving, the sound and...we just had to be serious because this is what we love so much. And, um, I think we're a great, great, great mix.
RO: How is your upcoming album with The Cannabinoids going to differ from your solo works?
EB: It's pretty experimental. Most of the stuff we do is really impromptu, so the sound kind of came together, you know, on its own. We're just kind of exploring freestyling and free verse.
Rob Free: We're exploring and improvising and everyone is feeding off of each other's energy, kind of coming out with creations, as opposed to coming in with a set agenda on what we're actually going to create, so it's really coming from a place of pure spontaneity.
A1: Also, our live shows kind of incorporate things from the recorded album and also things from our impromptu-type electronic band. It always involves some stuff that's unrehearsed.
EB: Yeah, what we do is a mix of things. We jam for a while...then we do some covers, where we remix them. We do some original Cannabinoids tunes from my forthcoming album that's coming out soon.
You know, we just freak it, you know, however we feel. For the most part, when we rehearse, we rehearse my standards, but we don't have a set show. Right before the show, RC and I will discuss what we need to run, and somebody will throw something else in and...we've been happy with that process so far.
RO: Erykah, besides The Cannabinoids, what other music projects are you working on?
EB: My own album comes out at the end of the year as well. I'm working on it with some of the same guys as in The Cannabinoids. They're producing it. Then I'm working on some songs with the Flaming Lips.
RO: What can fans expect with your solo album?
EB: It definitely won't be like the last one [2010's New Amerykah Vol. 2: Return of the Ankh]. There will never be another one like the last one. Um, ehhh, I can't really describe it. It's too soon to say exactly what it is because it's developing right now. Or, really, I'm just keeping it on the down-low (chuckles).
RO: How is working with Wayne Coyne?
EB: Yeah, he's probably the craziest motherfucker I ever met in my life. It's just amazing how crazy he is. I mean, he's a lunatic with conviction.
RO: What are your most current projects outside of music?
EB: I'm doing more film. I decided to go back into the film realm of my career, and I'm excited about that, doing that.
Jah Born: Yup. Stay in creative mode. Stay constantly in creative mode.
EB: Yeah, we're really strict about practicing as a family. You know, we try to stay really close together all of the time, talk as much as we can. All of us are actually pretty busy with our other careers and things, and other hobbies.
Like, for example, Free is also a visual artist who travels doing sketching. Um, of course S1 is always out somewhere producing something for somebody. R.C. has so many projects going on till I think he's fed up with it. I mean he's just party dude of Dallas. You got a party, he's there.
We have families as well. Yeah, besides us being a big family, we have our own families and we all get together as much as we can. We spend a lot of time in the studio...
R.C. Williams: In the badudio.
RO: As of today, what would you consider to be your biggest creative inspiration?
EB: Let me see. Well, at this point...see, it used to be Fred Flintstone. Now we have moved to Adventure Time. It's Adventure Time! That's what makes me creative (laughs) because it's so über-creative and absurd. It's like the epitome of what I want to create in art right now.
You know, just that absurdity and boundary-pushing. It's entertaining and it's so cool. I love Adventure Time!
RO: Perfect! Adventure Time is great. So, lastly, you have family in Houston, correct? What's your favorite part of Houston?
EB: Oh, yeah, I got family in Houston. I mean, I'm a vegetarian, but my favorite meal in Houston used to be Frenchy's Chicken. When I was a little girl that was like, you know, I lived for that. You know, whenever I went to Houston I would see, I would see Jah Born because he worked at the airport (laughs).
JB: That's right. I was down there for quite a few years. We ran a record company out of Houston.
EB: We got family and memories in Houston, so this is like a second home for all of us pretty much.
JB: We're ready for Houston!
Erykah Badu & the Cannabinoids play Free Press Summer Fest at 6:25 p.m. Saturday, June 2, on the Budweiser Stage (stage 2).
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