Dallas icon Erykah Badu talks “woke,” cannabis, ChatGPT and more with MSNBC’s Ari Melber

Erykah Badu and Ari Melber face each other in chairs on an outdoor patio.

Erykah Badu in conversation with Ari Melber.
Photo: MSNBC

As we noted a couple months ago, on the eve of Erykah Badu’s birthday, her world is ever-percolating, and rarely static.

Near the end of March, Badu sat for one of her most expansive interviews in a while with MSNBC anchor Ari Melber, as part of his online series “Mavericks with Ari Melber,” which bills itself as “a new series of in-depth conversations with artists, musicians and cultural icons.” (Prior subjects include Jeff Goldblum, Cyndi Lauper, DJ Khaled, Snoop Dogg and Billy Porter.)

“I feel exquisite — excited,” Badu says at the outset of her chat with Melber. “Looking forward to the possibilities. I got everything ahead of me.”

As is her style, Badu doesn’t shy away from any of the topics Melber raises, not least of which is the politicization of the word “woke,” which Melber credits Badu with re-popularizing by way of her 2008 track “Master Teacher.”

Given the polarizing political climate in which we find ourselves, it’s this bit of the nearly hour-long discussion which has gotten the most traction, but here are a few other notable takeaways from this fascinating discussion, which can be viewed in full below.

The co-opting of “woke” for political purposes

Melber uses snippets of a variety of celebrities from across the political spectrum, other than Badu, saying the word “woke,” before seeking her opinion on it all. “I think they mean Black … it’s just another way to say ‘thug’ or something else, right?” she responds. “It is what it is. [The word] doesn’t belong to us anymore. Once something goes out in the world, it takes a life of its own.”

Reacting to a ChatGPT assessment of her career

One of the most amusing/baffling segments comes when Melber reads Badu selections of a ChatGPT [artificial intelligence chatbot] “report” on her life and music. Badu absorbs the (admittedly decent) feedback and declares: “I think my ancestors wrote that. … I think that’s it. It’s wild.”

Defining Baduizm for Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford

An early highlight is a grinning Badu watching a clip of herself from 1997 as she defines Baduizm, the title of her triple-platinum debut LP, for the morning show hosts. “Baduizm is supposed to get you high, make you feel really good naturally,” a turban-clad Badu tells Philbin. (And cringe along as Gifford chastises Badu for hiding her face on her album cover!) “She’s so green,” the 2023 Badu says of her younger self. “I think she’s very special, very gifted, very talented, very naïve — she didn’t know a lot of things, so she was influenced very easily.”

Her new cannabis strain with Cookies

On International Women’s Day this past March, Badu announced a collaboration with rapper and entrepreneur Berner, whose Cookies cannabis brand is well-known among weed connoisseurs. According to Forbes, the strain — known as “That Badu” — will be supplemented with products from Badu’s Apple Trees line. “I’m super excited about that — it’s a long time coming,” Badu told Melber. “[Berner] is the perfect person to meet and be influenced by.” (As a bonus, please enjoy this clip of Berner and Badu testing out “That Badu.”)

Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. Email him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter (@prestonjones). Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.