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YRB Interview: Erykah Badu

By Steven J. Horowitz

Erykah Badu could use a vacation. Though she’s only dropped two albums over the past four years (2008’s New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) and its sequel New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) two years later), the mellow-toned vocalist is accelerating her output in 2012 with a strong flow of releases, solo or otherwise.

On the docket: a collaborative album with Flying Lotus, already in its early stages, and a “more acoustic” solo album set for December; a possible jazz standard album with pianist Robert Glasper; outer space songs with The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne; features on Rocket Juice and The Moon’s debut, due March 26; and a beat tape this summer and album to follow from her group, The Cannabinoids.

Already, it’s been a busy year for Ms. Badu. She most recently worked with Britain’s resident gentleman Mark Ronson on a track for the Re:Generation project. But it’s with her participation in Hennessy Cognac’s “Wild Rabbit” campaign that she’s stepping outside of her musical comfort zone. Alongside Manny Pacquiao and Martin Scorcese, the songstress is the face of the brand’s latest advertising venture, a choice made after seeing Hennessy’s contribution to music with “The Art of Mixing” promotion.

While in New York City to shoot the ads for “Wild Rabbit,” YRB got a chance to sit with Badu to discuss what the campaign means to her, what it’s like working with Flying Lotus for their joint LP, why she still gets nervous performing and how she copes with taken a break from her career since 1997.

YRB: What made you want to partner with Hennessy?
Erykah: I have to go back a little. The first time I was involved with Hennessy was because of ?uestlove from The Roots. They were doing a project called “The Art of Blending.” D-Nice, Black Thought… And they blended all of these different artists together on one stage. The Hennessy Artistry show in New York. It was really interesting. Ron Isley, Mary J. Blige, Eve, myself, D-Nice… It was so uncontrived that it was pathetic. It was a really warm thing. I’d never been involved with so many celebrities who were established and respected, be so relaxed. They may have been drunk. But seriously, it was very warm. And I enjoyed it so much that Ahmir invited me to be a part of two others, one in Miami and another somewhere else. But it was cool. I think Hennessy noticed my enthusiasm and they invited me to be a curator for the next season’s Art of Blending. I said yeah, of course. When you saw the kids or the artists on stage that were unsigned with established artists together like that, it was important, because the audience saw that. So I said yes. Some kind of way, that didn’t work out. Then, this project came about and I asked them what the name of that was and they said the campaign was called “Wild Rabbit.” I said, what’s that about? “Wild Rabbit” is the passion inside of you that no one can catch or tame or control. Something that just runs through us all. It also can be described as potential. I thought about it and I said, that’s totally me. I said, who else is involved? They said Manny Pacquiao and Martin Scorsese. I haven’t gotten a chance yet, but I’m going to ask them both why they’re involved as well. The reason I felt compelled was because of the history that I had with Hennessy. I knew as an artist, I would get a chance to use a platform in a way that does what my brand does, which is to give back to younger artists who do not have a platform and don’t know what their “Wild Rabbit” is. Who don’t even know that it exists. I think the campaign, it’s very simple and classy, just like Hennessy, just like it looks. Very simple, with simple quotes. And I think in those simple quotes with an artist or entertainer or a boxer they look up to, that’s yet another opportunity for somebody to find their “Wild Rabbit” or their potential. So it’s like, cool. It wasn’t about the money.

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