Erykah Badu kicked off Portland’s Annual Soul’d Out Music Festival on Wednesday, April 18 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Robert Glasper’s super jazz group R+R = Now opened the performance—which is insane. Not only is Glasper a legend in his own right, adding to the madness of how incredible the evening’s music would be, but Glasper was scheduled to play his own headline the next night at the Roseland Theater as well.
Anyone who grew up in the ‘90s with an appreciation for R&B music knows—if not adores—Badu’s music, and this is especially true as a woman. Seldom has any woman within the mainstream music industry been able to hold down an individual, opinionated identity and remain so respected and untouchable. You can’t fuck with her because she’s Erykah Badu.
If you’re questioning the legitimacy of this statement, look no further than the fact that she was an hour late to her own performance, promised the audience free alcohol when the bar was closed and refused to do an encore. From what I could tell, nobody cared. She was there, we were there, and the music was amazing—that’s all we really came for anyway. To be fair, I did overhear two security guards discussing how Badu was in fact in the building getting ready and that she had missed her flight to Portland.
Just before walking on stage, Badu’s band warmed up the audience with a rendition of “Rimshot” using the opening time signature of “Window Seat.” Once she appeared on stage, the audience stood and cheered as she stood front and center and began with the song “Hello.”
Just as one would hope, Badu performed many songs from Baduizm such as “On & On,” “Apple Tree,” and “Next Lifetime,” but not before prefacing an album dedication to the past two decades of fans: “Where are my ‘80s babies? Where are my ‘90s babies running around?” Badu asked the crowd. “Ok, I’m going to be honest with you: I wrote Baduizm for the ‘90s babies.”
“I was pregnant with my son, Seven, who was born in 1997, and my album came out in 1997 too. So I was actually speaking to me in a secret, coded language that only this generation could understand,” Badu explained. “I’ve been waiting for y’all to grow the fuck up so I can talk to you. It’s been so lonely! But I waited patiently. And I love you all very much.”
Between songs, and sometimes during a slow melody typically heard with lyrics, Badu was non-rhetorically conversational with audience, allowing everyone a glimpse of what it was like to write certain albums or how she felt about certain issues relevant to the music industry. Specifically, criticisms of Mumble Rap, a signature chorus style of music artists such as Future and Desiigner.
“I believe in you very, very much, but nobody else understands,” Badu said to the crowd, specifically the younger audience members. “I know, I understand, and I have to believe in you…And most of the time, people are always complaining like…’It’s not good, it’s not good–this generation, they’re not saying anything…’ Well that’s because we’ve evolved.” Erykah’s use of the term evolved in context echoes comments made by Kendrick Lamar in the 2017 edition of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 where he stated, “I want hip-hop to continue to evolve.”
After performing popular ballads such as “Me” and “Cleva,” Badu also talked to the crowd about where her inspiration for Baduizm came from and introduced a local family member on stage before covering the song “It’s Gonna Be Alright” by Z-Ro.
One aspect of Badu’s performance was her dry, witty sense of humor. At one point during the show, Badu dropped the N-word in the middle of dancing. She stopped, smirked over her shoulder and said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Colored people.” People lost their shit. In the middle of dancing again, Badu showed her back to the crowd and, while pointing to her lower back, she said, “I’ve only got one tattoo on my body, on my lower back. It says ‘child support.’ That’s all I want on your mind.”
Erykah closed the show with the legendary hit “Tyrone,” where midway through she recalled performing “Tyrone” before she was famous, in Seattle, Wash. She explained how people went “nuts,” audience members were fighting one another, “swinging off the rafters.” While the mental image seems hard to imagine, the description as added funny commentary worked just as well.
While I was slightly disheartened she didn’t perform “Afro Blue” with Robert Glasper, Badu’s show overall was everything I’d ever hoped to see. It had been so long since she performed in Portland—so long that it’s not even available online—that I wasn’t sure I’d ever have the opportunity.
Erykah Badu Setlist for Soul’d Out Music Festival 2018
- Rimshot (Intro) – Live version – Live (1997)
- Hello – But You Caint Use My Phone (Mixtape) (2015)
- On & On – Baduizm (1997)
- Me – New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War (2008)
- Appletree – Baduizm (1997)
- Cleva – Mama’s Gun (2000)
- It’s Gonna Be Alright – Z-Ro, Life (2002)
- Next Lifetime – Baduizm (1997)
- Didn’t Cha Know – Mama’s Gun (2000)
- You Loving Me (Session) – New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh (2010)
- Tyrone – Extended Version – Live (1997)