Erykah Badu preaches ‘believe in yourself’ and ‘mind your business’ at New York stop on ‘Unfollow Me Tour’

Review: Erykah Badu performed at Madison Square Garden with special guests Yasiin Bey and Tobe Nwigwe.

Erykah Badu likes challenging social conventions. The most recent project from the self-proclaimed “Analog Girl in a Digital World” was her 2015 mixtape, “But You Caint Use My Phone,” loosely based on people’s addiction to mobile phones. She does the same thing with the title of her current tour, ‘Unfollow Me.’

On her July 11 stop at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Badu and her opening acts, Tobe Nwigwe and Yasiin Bey (f.k.a. Mos Def), all echoed to one degree or another the peculiarity of keeping tabs on people you dislike. The notion of watching all the social media posts of a person you don’t care for intrigued the artists, prompting them to each say how corny it is. 

“We only have one rule at the ‘Unfollow Me Tour’,” Badu said early in her set. “And that rule is…mind your business.” This fight against online hate obsession was noticeable but not too heavy-handed to overshadow the fantastic performances by Badu and her guests. 

Erykah Badu (left) and Yasiin Bey perform during the St. Louis stop of the Unfollow Me Tour. (Photo by Tony Krash, provided by Baduworld)

Nwigwe, an unannounced opener, delighted the New York crowd with his raps and glorious background choir for 25 minutes, and included his beloved single, “Try Jesus.” Bey made thinly veiled remarks on the subject between songs as he treated fans with songs like “Quiet Dog,” “Close Edge” and “Mathematics.” While he ended his set with his classic “Umi Says,” Bey’s guest stars made his set memorable. 

Roots frontman Black Thought joined Bey for their debut, “Double Trouble,” Queens MC Pharoahe Monch came on for their song “Oh no.” Lastly, Talib Kweli emerged for a Black Star reunion, bringing the crowd together. 

After nearly two hours of eclectic hip-hop, the MSG stage became engulfed with mist and purple lights as a spirograph cymbal spun on the projection behind the stage. Badu’s eight-piece band played the opening chords and sang the opening chorus of “The Healer” before the Grammy winner materialized on stage, accompanied by lasers and projections of lightning. 

The first thing out of Badu’s mouth was the song “20 Feet Tall.” She stood center stage for most of the night, dressed in her Afrofuturistic garb, with two drum machines on either side. Badu preceded nearly every one of her songs with improvised drum beats, bracing the audience for what was to come. 

The attendees went into hysterics when Badu eased into “On & On,” one of her first hit singles from her debut album, “Baduizm.” Adding its sequel, “…& On” from “Mama’s Gun,” was a tight, nice touch. She upped the fusion ante when she played “Baduizm” deep cut, “No Love.” The song features an interpolation of Stevie Wonder’s “I Love You Too Much” from 1985s “In Square Circle” on its coda, and Badu ad-libbed the chorus of Wonder’s “Stranger on the Shore of Love,” taken from the same album, which was a soulful, welcome decision. 

Like with “The Healer,” Badu acknowledged the 50th anniversary of hip-hop with quick takes on Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s “Ladidadi,” Whodini’s “Friends,” and Snoop Dogg’s “Ain’t No Fun” while kicking a freestyle or two herself. This happened all while animated projections of boomboxes emerged above her. 

Erykah Badu performs in Las Vegas on the “Unfollow Me Tour.” (Photo by Tony Krash, provided by Baduworld)

Badu’s voice was as powerful as ever. She showcased the biggest of her vocals on hits like “Otherside of the Game,” “Window Seat,” “Bag Lady” and “Next Lifetime,” while displaying a delicate ebb and flow on “Mama’s Gun” songs like “Orange Moon,” “Kiss Me On My Neck (Hesi)” and “AD 2000,” which featured her playing an acoustic guitar solo for the first passage. 

The show ended on a high note as she launched into “Didn’t Cha Know,” causing the crowd to nearly drown out her voice with their singing. It’s now a tradition for Badu to end her shows singing a slow, emotional excerpt of “Believe in Yourself” from “The Wiz.” With all the facilities of her amazing voice, she brought tears to attendees’ eyes, singing words from Glinda the Good that truly brought home the real meaning behind “Unfollow Me.”

“Believe in yourself right from the start,
Believe in the magic right there in your heart,
Believe all these things, and not because I told you to,
Believe in yourself,
Believe in yourself,
Believe in yourself,
As I believe in you.”

A perfect note of positivity and affirmation to end an amazing show by one of the most important artists of her generation.

Erykah Badu set list for “Unfollow Me Tour” concert at Madison Square Garden:

  1. “The Healer”
  2. “20 Feet Tall”
  3. “On & On/…& On:
  4. “To Each His Own (Faith, Hope and Charity cover)”
  5. “Apple Tree”
  6. “No Love”
  7. “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)”
  8. “Hip-Hop medley: “Ladidadi (Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh)/Friends (Whodini)/Freestyle”
  9. “Me”
  10. “Time’s a Wastin'”
  11. “Umm Hmm”
  12. “Otherside of the Game”
  13. “Kiss Me on My Neck (Hesi)”
  14. “AD 2000”
  15. “Orange Moon”
  16. “Window Seat”
  17. “Next Lifetime”
  18. “Bag Lady”
  19. “Ain’t No Fun (Snoop Dogg cover)”
  20. “Didn’t Cha Know”
  21. “Believe in Yourself (from “The Wiz”)

Matthew Allen is an entertainment writer of music and culture for theGrio. He is an award-winning music journalist, TV producer and director based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s interviewed the likes of Quincy Jones, Jill Scott, Smokey Robinson and more for publications such as Ebony, Jet, The Root, Village Voice, Wax Poetics, Revive Music, Okayplayer, and Soulhead. His video work can be seen on PBS/All Arts, Brooklyn Free Speech TV and BRIC TV.

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