We caught up with the dynamic diva who is as legendary for singles like "Tyrone," which she performed, as she is for her eclectic chic style.
ESSENCE.com: What has influenced your style through the years?
ERYKAH BADU: When I visited Cuba to get a santería reading. It was the year 2000 and I didn't know exactly what [to expect]. I went there, I sat on a curb and waited for my reading. I had on this white head wrap and the white long dress and all of these jewelry because it was part of me. It was who I was. I was overdressed because everybody else had on t-shirts and baggy tights.
I sat next to a guy whose nails were dirty. He had on some Pumas that were tied so tights you can see the tongues out. Then there was a guy on my left with white shorts and no shirts, and they were passing a cigarette across me and drinking beer. I finally went in for my reading and there was this beautiful older woman who had on a yellow long dress and short haircut and she was gray-haired. Very pretty and she started walking around me and speaking to me in Spanish. I assumed she was the priest who was going to give me my reading.
When the guy with the beard and dirty nails came in and I told the interpreter, "I kind of wanted it to be private." He goes, "Oh no, he's the Priest."
I never wore the head wrap again. I realized it wasn't necessary anymore because after all that man was from a long line of healers and he didn't have to look like one. He was born with it. No matter what he did or what he said no one could take that away from him. That's when I I got freer and began to evolve. Bean to focus on being more in here than out here.
ESSENCE.com: How did this musical partnership between MMJ and you began?
ERYKAH: We were both featured in a documentary called "Before The Music Dies" and it was a documentary about the music business and the depths of its one-sidedness if you will. And we both gave our opinions and we're groups that were featured. That's when I first heard of them and really started to appreciate just the funk that they have. And then when they covered "Tyrone" I knew they were funking it.
ESSENCE.com: What are your thoughts on other artists covering your music?
ERYKAH: I think it's great because once you do it, it really don't belong to you anymore. It kind of belongs to everybody, to the universe. I'm honored and I'm happy that it makes somebody feel like they want to sing it or want to be a part of it. When I hear music that I really love, I want to be part of it, I want to sing it, I want be in the group so it's an honor actually. It's quite cool.
ESSENCE.com: Is it about compromising when collaborating with other artists who come from different genres?
ERYKAH: It's feeling it. It's like we from the same tribe even though the genres are a little different. Our backgrounds are different. What his mama listens to is so different from what my mama listens to, so we have different set of avenues or memories of things floating around us, but it's the same tribe. We definitely both use the funk and that means that we can really understand each other's language so it's not hard to compromise. It's not hard to share and teach. We like being at each other's world.