Erykah Badu Details The Making of “Hello” With Andre 3000
On November 27, Erykah Badu released mixtape But You Cain’t Use My Phone. The Thanksgiving week freebie is also available for online purchase. The closing song of the 11 included in the Motown Records project is “Hello,” a duet with the father of Erykah’s son, Andre 3000. The parents honored an Isley Brothers record, titled “Hello, It’s Me,” with their own stylized rendition, and furthered a collaborative history dating back to Outkast’s Stankonia.
Speaking with Pitchfork this past week, Ms. Badu elaborated on the working relationship with her former lover, after all these years.
“Andre and I are still best of friends, always have been and always will be,” said Badu. “When our 18-year-old son, Seven, started high school, we both agreed to be in the same city, so Andre is in Dallas, [Texas] all the time, and we’re always all together doing something.” The veteran songstress added that the family activities often bleed into music. “Seven was very instrumental in helping me put the ideas together for the mixtape, because we would ride to school and listen to music, going through SoundCloud, checking out new artists.”
Badu said this practice is what ultimately led to “Hello.” “One day, I was sharing my ideas with Seven and Andre in the living room, and they are always really excited to share ideas with me—especially when they see that I’m percolating. They threw out a whole lot of songs to me once they figured out I was doing a phone theme with the mixtape, and Andre goes, ‘What about the Isley Brothers’ “Hello It’s Me”?’ and I was like ‘Yeah!’ So I plugged my phone in the speaker jack and played it, and we all started singing.” Badu said that the Isley Brothers’ 1974 song has long been a family favorite, regularly played in the home.
The moment reportedly began as a Badu solo interlude. “After Seven went off to school, I went over to [producer] Zach Witness’ house and had him do a piano version of it that was just 30 seconds long […] At that point my vocals weren’t in it, and I sent that music to Andre and said, ‘This is what I came up with, isn’t it pretty.’ And he said, ‘Wow, it is pretty.’ A couple of days later, he said, ‘Erykah, I’m riding around listening to this every day, I can’t get it out of my mind.'” It was then that Erykah invited her onetime mate to the song.
The singer was out of town when she heard the results of Andre’s recording with Zach Witness. Hearing the audio over email, Badu recalled, “I was like, ‘You have totally annihilated the track! This is it!’ I got home and recorded my ‘hello hello’ parts, and that was supposed to be it. But after we heard ourselves together, we both thought: This is a duet. Then Andre said out loud, ‘We need to finish it.’ So we got in my living room and started at 11PM and finished at five in the morning. Seven was walking in and out of the pantry, getting snacks late into the night, just watching over us. It all happened that night.”
The family moment was special to all three people. “After we finished, we were very silent. We knew we had created something special, that it was more than we thought it would be. At that point, I said, ‘This is no longer a mixtape, this is an event.'”
In the interview, Badu also speaks about her friendship with Drake—and her Universal label-mate’s reaction to the mixtape’s clear homages to him (care of ItsRoutine). Additionally, she opens up about some of her low-profile volunteer healthcare work, in nursing homes and with expectant mothers.
#BonusBeat: Don’t sleep on The Isley Brothers’ version: