WHO: Erykah Badu and the Roots
WHAT: A performance of a medley of Badu’s “On & On” and Fela Kuti’s “Sorrow, Tears, and Blood” on The Tonight Show
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: Badu is one of pop’s most singular talents: a true-blue musical weirdo who’s got artistry with a capital A (evident in her Tonight Show hairstyle alone). That’s true almost anywhere you see her, whether she’s showing up in Texas to DJ at a club as her alter ego, Lo Down Loretta Brown, headlining a theater tour, or popping up on Fallon with her old pals The Roots to promote her curation of the last installment in a box set of the work of afrobeat legend Fela Kuti. There’s a command to her as a performer that’s thrilling to watch, and it’s on full display in this performance.
At this point, Badu is two decades into her career. She’s got a legacy as an artist that extends well beyond her sales—the trail she blazed has been followed closely by stars like Beyoncé, Solange, Drake, and Janelle Monae—and that kind of legacy can overshadow an artist’s own greatness. Is she a vital, breathing artist whose work is independently valuable, or does she exist primarily to serve as a wing on the grand estate that is Beyoncé’s career, one that appears on the directory under “influences”? In five minutes on Fallon, Badu, teaming up with The Roots—a group that may never have broken through to mainstream success had she not lent her voice to “You Got Me”—makes clear how ridiculous it is to even ask that question. Erykah Badu is a titanic performer—it’s impossible to take your eyes off of her when she’s on stage.