ERYKAH BADU / “Southern Girl” (Opolopo Remix)
One thing I know is that I am one of the midwives aiding in the rebirth and process of music, and I never underestimate the audience's ability to feel that. Each night, I give them my all, and they give it all back, no matter what happens. —Erykah BaduWhat duh phuque is this “Southern Girl”? How do Dallas be the south and why do it with a Philly beatbox? But beyond that, what should we call the remix, which is done by a Hungarian-born Swede? And what does it matter whatever are the answers to these questions? And, oh by the way, read the interview with Erykah where she talks about using technology in her performance. Even though she self-describes herself as “an analog girl in a digital world,” she is in fact an ardent proponent (in practice) of using the latest technology available for sound production. I, of course, dig her embrace of technology even as she persists in her devotion to trance—improvising on the one, riding a groove to the other side. The interview is at: http://www.shure.com/otws/archive/summer2001/badu.htm But Erykah's use of the new is not the issue I want to address at the moment. How does one classify these complex collaborations she has dropped? “Southern Girl” is on Rhazel’s album but the force of Erykah is of such strength that we can’t help but hear this collaboration as an Erykah tune, regardless of what the reality of its origin is. And then when we listen to Opolopo’s remix, we think again that this too is Erykah’s thing, and even though these two versions are so different, so differently done, the vocals are actually the same. In the Opolopo remix, Erykah had already created and Opolopo supplied a completely new context for the song, based on what he heard but equally, if not more so, based on his own imagination. I don’t know how the original song with Rahzel came about. Don’t know if it was a collaboration in the studio, who thought of what, how it was put together, or nothing like that, and I won’t speculate on origins, instead my emphasis is on comparing the results and considering the question: how should we call this? It seems to me that the focus of both of these is the force of Erykah’s personality as manifested not simply by her singing but also as manifested by the content, which is narrated as autobiography, or more accurately, is self-referential but not confined to facts, therefore, one might say the content is both autobiography and imagination, with imagination being clearly the most important, or at least clearly to me. Imagination is the most important component of the content, and thus I recognize imagination as the Badu trademark. Not her “Little-Esther”-like voice, or her R&B/soul influences, nor her bent toward theatrics, or even her use of digital technology. No, none of that. Her imagination. So then, in the music I like, I find that the important ingredient is the imagination of the creators, and in that regard, while other vocalists have better voices or even a better sense of musicality (i.e. levels of skill and knowledge in the actual making of music), others do not have Badu’s wild-ass imagination, her sense of freedom and unpredictability, a sense that makes the best of her music so grandly enjoyable. So, to partially answer the questions I raised earlier, regardless of who are the collaborators, somebody got to be the fuel of the starship, got to provide the imagination to take us out there a minute, and thus, in this case, although the contributions of those whom she works with are very important, ultimately, at least in the case of Erykah Badu, ultimately it is her lead voice that distinguishes the collaboration. —Kalamu ya Salaam Erykah is unique I couldn't agree more about Erykah. We may have talked about this once before, but Erykah is unique. Her career arc (so far) seems completely disconnected from the general trends. She's ruthlessly dedicated to doing her own thing, whatever her own thing might be at a given moment. And not in a 'trying to be different' or 'looking for attention' way, just in a 'this is who I am' way. I like a lot of what she does, but I find all of it interesting. As for the Opolopo remix, it certainly does create questions. The original is Erykah singing over a Rahzel beatbox track. It's labeled as Rahzel feat. Erykah Badu. With (I presume) Erykah performing and composing the vocals and Rahzel performing and composing the accompaniment. So, if a remixer strips away all of the accompaniment and 'builds' a new, unrelated track at home on his computer, then re-edits the original vocals back in, who's the artist?
Opolopo feat. Erykah Badu? Erykah Badu remixed by Opolopo? Rahzel feat. Erykah Badu remixed by Opolopo? Etc., etc.As the gap between professional studio equipment and home computer equipment narrows, and as 'amateur' mash-up and remix artists become more skillful, we're going to be left with a lot more of these questions. Who is the artist? What is a collaboration? What is a remix? What is a remake? A rework? For me, the best thing about all of this is that people are feeling the freedom to express themselves without having to look to a record company for financial support or distribution. I'm digging it all. —Mtume ya Salaam
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