As soon as it was announced that Erykah Badu would perform in the Washington area over Valentine’s Day weekend, the chatter started: Who better to hear from on the day of love than a woman who seems so uniquely skilled at it? According to lore, looking directly into Badu’s eyes means falling instantly in love, and also going just a little bit crazy. For evidence of this, see rappers Andre 3000, Jay Electronica and, most notably, Common, who changed his style of music and traded jeans for crochet pants while they were dating.
But that legend of Badu’s allure is reductive — she doesn’t have that effect on romantic partners, she has that effect on everyone. We all clamor to be in her presence. We all wear the crochet pants, so to speak.
When she doesn’t release an album for a while — her last was 2010’s “New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)” — we don’t complain, we wait. In the past several months, Badu has DJed a Fashion Week party, busked in Times Square, spoken out about police brutality, and performed at the closing of a New Orleans apartment-building-turned-graffiti-gallery. What do those seemingly incongruous things have in common? She did them, we loved them.
On Sunday, the first of two sold-out nights at Fillmore Silver Spring, Badu, with nothing to promote but love and higher consciousness, cleared her throat, and then spent two hours singing her heart out and divulging her secrets about love — of art, of knowledge, of self.
Badu eased the crowd into the night with “20 Feet Tall,” from “New Amerykah Part Two,” and “Orange Moon,” from 2000s “Mama’s Gun,” hewing pretty closely to album versions before getting into the inventive live-show arrangements for which she’s known.
On “Me,” she broke up a smooth flow of autobiographical information by having her band stop on a dime before she delivered each punch line. Her ode to hip-hop, “Love of My Life,” was sprinkled with a few words from Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat,” and the sitar sample from A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum.”
Badu, who exchanged words with rapper Azealia Banks on Twitter recently after Banks took offense to Badu saying she “tried” to listen to Banks’s music, affirmed her love for hip-hop of the current era. “I’m feeling the Drakes and the Kendricks,” she said. “And I’m going up on Tuesdays, too,” she said, referencing a line from the hit by artist ILoveMakonnen.
Still, she reminded youngsters of her rap bona fides with Outkast’s “Liberation,” from 1998’s “Aquemini,” which was slowed down, stripped down and transformed into something that sounded like a jazz jam session.
After taking “Apple Tree,” from her 1997 debut “Baduizm,” and planting it somewhere near Planet Rock with the help of her sampler, Badu gave a nod to D.C. go-go with a quick cover of JunkYard Band’s “Sardines,” complete with Ms. Badu hitting a cowbell.
Her encore included “Didn’t Cha Know,” “Bag Lady,” and . . . Snoop’s “Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None)”? Considered a rap low point by many, in Badu’s hands, the rough language receded, and the infectious hook came forward. Per usual, Badu managed to take an artistic risk without controversy.
Still, she recognized the significance of sending people home after that song. “Stop! This is not what I wanna leave you with!” She ended instead with a medley of “Honey,” “Next Lifetime” and “Tyrone,” but even if she hadn’t, it still would’ve been all love.
Godfrey is a freelance writer.