by Eric Tullis
Five Star, Raleigh
Friday, Nov. 2
The celebrity DJ hustle earned a bad rap when Jersey Shore's Pauly D started pissing people off with his outrageous booking prices and piss-poor skills. But it's a lot different when a class-act artist like Erykah Badu offers her services for a room of dance-ready folks accustomed to 9th Wonder's True School Corporation's juiced parties. So last week, on the Friday night kickoff of N.C. State and N.C. Central's homecoming festivities, 9th hosted the best party in town, with the most unexpected DJ.
A little after midnight, a flock of True School affiliates outfitted in Zulu Nation hoodies formed a barricaded lane so that Badu could make her way to the stage and sink into her role as DJ Lo Down Loretta Brown. As a spectator, the task of being cowed by her majesty and being buttoned-up with the urge to dance to her set offered some difficulty. She worked, so, you had to work with her. 9th Wonder supervised at times but largely because he was happy to be a part of the show.
This is a huge month for 9th Wonder. On Nov. 13, his collaborative albums with Boot Camp Click's Buckshot and the West Coast's indie hip-hop king Murs will be released, so this affair acted as a prelude to all of the release-date hoopla surrounding those two long-awaited projects. Indeed, on a platform in the middle of the room's far-corner staircase, painter Jason L. Ford worked on an acrylic portrait of 9th as the Grammy-winning producer warmed-up the crowd for Badu's set. It was her night, but it was still 9th's house.
Sometimes when celebrity DJs manage turntables, it's like they're battling quicksand—they get so fatigued from the floundering and life-saving that they eventually drown themselves out of their own mix. With minimal hiccups, Badu labored with ease and elegance—never breaking a sweat, mismatching a beat or showing any signs of overall technical deficiency. Of course, she wasn't born to be a turntablist, but she lives to emit music. She figured it out on Friday night just like she did a few years ago when her son, Seven, taught her how to use GarageBand to record parts of 2008's New Amerykah Part One (4th World War).
Badu's R&B touch came into play when she threw on Musiq Soulchild's "Just Friends (Sunny)"—a rarity for this setting—before blending it into another Philly classic, Beanie Sigel's party knocker "Roc Da Mic." Her other rare picks—like Devin the Dude and Snoop Dogg's "Fuck You" followed by Too Short's "These Are the Tales"—highlighted Badu's breezy, Southern persona.
"This is my therapy. I just spin what I like," Badu said toward the end of her set. Moments later, to accompany the Jay Dee-inspired song "Telephone," she told the story of a dream that the late, celebrated Detroit producer told her in his last days. In the dream, Ol' Dirty Bastard told Dilla to "get on the white bus, even though the red bus looks like a lot of fun." As Badu explained, ODB was trying to tell Jay Dee how to get "home."
Badu sang on her night in Raleigh, but only enough to satisfy a thimble-sized appetite. She wasn't here for that. She came to help her fellow Zulu Nation brother 9th Wonder continue his legacy.
When asked about future 95 Live guests, Five Star owner Michelle Bender remained tight-lipped about whom 9th has lined up for his January birthday party, but not without suggesting that it would be a big name. To some, Erykah Badu is as big as it gets; to 9th Wonder, she seemed another legend on call.