(or: She’ll Make You Change Gods!)
I am, to the untrained eye, a hippie-dippy, no-relaxer-wearing, Whole Foods shopping afro pixie faerie princess. I research traditional African spiritual practices, keep florida water and incense on hand, I bathe with Dr. Bronner’s soaps, I eat vegetables some folks have never heard of (kale, daikon radishes, red leaf lettuce), and I don’t shop at Wal-Mart unless it’s a matter of a medical issue (it never is). By some standards, I am simply progressive and/ or bourgeois. By the standards of some other folks, I am Most Likely to Work A Root On You or Most Likely to Make You Watch a Documentary on Orgasmic Birth Despite Neither of Us Expecting a Baby (Or both. At the same time. So I can have a baby with you.) I suppose that drinking coconut milk kefir & wearing/ stringing strands of waistbeads make me more different than some folks can fuck with. Fine. Whatever. But, it wasn’t until I was about 25 or 26 that I’d heard this from a paramour: “You gonna try to Badu me? Make me worship my ancestors or somethin’?” **record scratch** “Badu” him?
I wasn’t foreign to the idea that Ms. Erica Abi Wright supposedly turns her men out and makes them do “crazy shit.” André Benjamin supposedly started wearing wigs and furry pants after he broke up with her because she’d changed him*. Common’s crocheted pants**, vegetarianism, and the entire Electric Circus album were allegedly her fault. And the jokes bouncing around on sites like okayplayer.com and crunktastical.net about The DOC (daughter Puma’s father) and Jay Electronica (a freakshow anomaly in his own right, and daughter Mars’ father) needing to run for their lives were plentiful. It never really made sense to me to assume that one cis woman’s relationship with any one cis man could be the sole reason he changed himself. Because that’s what people do when they enter into deep, committed, loving relationships, right? They change some shit around, they grow a little bit, and they learn some shit. At least, that’s what I always thought was supposed to happen.
I want to explore the idea of magic muffs as related to the chatter I’ve heard about Erykah, very little of which is based on the words/ ideas of people who actually know her. She’s is a great example of the myth of pussy persuasion, but it goes deeper, wider, and waaaaay farther than anything having to do with rappity rap dudes and the company they keep. I picked Erykah as the primary example of this meme because, quite honestly, I’m tired of the #1 search term leading people to my WordPress blog being ‘Erykah Badu’s Pussy’. (No, really.) I know what probably led people to search that term, but I’m certain that what they found wasn’t to their liking.
I’m going to try to give a little background on the idea of pussy sorcery, vajayjay voodoo, hooha hoodoo, coochie conjuring, voodoo vadge, peach persuasion, or muffin magic. Source of such an idea: folkloric accounts (and sometimes community gossip) regarding a cisgender heterosexual woman “working a root” on her (or anybody’s) cisgender heterosexual man to get him to comply with her wishes. To leave his wife, to stay with her, to give her money, to buy her things, etc., this woman has to do some seriously wild stuff. Incant a love spell, put blood in his spaghetti sauce, maybe put a hex on the woman he’s with at the time. Usually, these ideas are discussed specifically within the context of getting and “keeping” a man. There is even the more subtle (but possibly more widespread) thought that a woman who is extra wonderful in bed is trying to trap a dude. That’s the most basic pussy sorcery, isn’t it? She’s amazing in bed, so she must be tryna undo me!***
Sometimes, the speculation is: “She’s gonna make me go vegetarian/ buy organic/ stop sayin’ ‘nigga’/ quit eating pork/ stop watching porn/ act white/ do yoga.” Why are those bad things? Does that mean the dude can’t change by himself, without outside influences? Does that mean that relationships aren’t supposed to change anything about you, ever? Please, don’t say, “DGF, you’re being silly!” because I’ve heard grumblings from men before about this very concept. I’m not making this shit up, not in the least. There is a song about Erykah Badu’s crotch supposedly being a catalyst for change. I am a bit confused as to why it would be okay to decide that changing is a bad thing, but, okay. Maybe it’s that good old patriarchal notion that whatever the man in the hetero relationship wants to do is always acceptable, no matter what. Actually, I’m fairly certain that that’s what it is.
Regarding Erykah Badu’s public image and the public images of those men she’s been romantically involved with, I have to remember that the public persona of any man who raps (whether it’s an image he fully controls, or not) is almost always linked to a hypermasculinity specific to the way our culture views men of color, and black men especially. That they are these rocks of animalistic sexuality, that they are somehow the inventors (or at least the best executors) of misogyny, and so on and so forth. Where is there room for love in this construct of the black man as unlovable? (Don’t worry, I’m not actually waiting for an answer.) Also, I have to ask the same question of the construct of black women — cunning, manipulative Sapphires. Or, we’re Jezebels who’ll spread at will, or Mammies who are incapable of any meaningful interpersonal interaction that does not come from caring for other people. These constructs all frame black people as unlovable. And that’s the crux, as I stated before, of the idea of this supposed sex sorcery.
Erykah Badu does not actually reflect any one of these constructs. Nor did she, upon debut in the industry, have an identity in line with any of the then-popular black women entertainers (see: Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, Brandy, Sade, Aaliyah or Monica). Erykah’s image was pro-black, possibly identifiable as pan-African, and most certainly swathed in notions of mysticism and an “earthiness” synonymous with the Southern United States. She was the throwback to the seventies hippie flower child who lit sticks of incense on stage and drank tea while performing. This rendered her different-with-a-capital-D. Erykah Badu attended a four-year college (not typically discussed when analyzing the lives of black entertainers). This possibly makes her part of the black bourgeoisie. So there is a class issue at play, especially if a large part of her potential listening public is not college educated. Again, different-with-a-capital-D. The idea is that she is not anything like this monolithic identity of blackness, and especially not black cis womanhood. And that’s a problem.
Erykah Badu has seemingly spent time with and slept with whomever she wanted. She has three (3!! Oh my God, how dare she?!!?!?!??!) children with three different men — never mind the fact that these kids are approximately 14, 7, and 2 years old, which suggests that the relationships producing each child were not happening simultaneously. I think that this is why I’ve observed such vitriol regarding her relationships and her choice to have three children with three different men. Never mind the fact that her kids are (approximately) 14, 7, and 2 years old, meaning that the Maury Povich Show “baby daddy drama” that seems to nowadays be synonymous with black single cis women parenting probably is not part of Badu’s family life. She’s said on record before that she has great relationships with her children’s fathers. How shocking, right? Someone who is not doing the nuclear family thing appears to be satisfied with it, and their entire cache of personal business has not been spilled into every media channel possible! Never mind the fact that she is grown, and from what I gather, in control of her crotch — just like the men she’s been in relationships with. No glittery gravel pit glamouring here.
The mysticism (via no apparent affiliation with Western religions of any kind) has been a constant theme in Erykah’s music and personal image, in my opinion, further removes her from widely accepted constructs of black women’s identities. She doesn’t seem to want or need King Jesus like Vickie Winans, and she most certainly has not been to Oprah’s Legends brunch situation in a big ol’ church hat like Patti Labelle. I’d reference a widely popular non-Christian black woman entertainer here, but quite honestly there isn’t one. Again, Erykah is different-with-a-capital-D. In a society where we are taught that same is safe, being different means you are dangerous on some level or another.
Taking into consideration the fact that Badu is from Dallas, Texas — the Southern United States — I think it’s safe to say that she is more likely connected to the fabled and oft-maligned old ways of American black folk than a lot of us Eastern Seaboard big city dwellers. This reifies the idea that she is at the very least witchy – our ancestors dealt with earth more, they were reliant on land in a way that many urbanites simply are not. Following this somewhat jumbled logic means that even when she’s fucking someone, the witchy woman is supposedly conjuring something — she’s imposing on her partner’s will in some way through sorcery. I find this rather unlikely, as most people I know are too busy enjoying the sex they’re having to think about too much else. But what do I know? I seriously doubt that this woman was having sex with the intent of turning these men into her minions or whatever. But what do I know?
Maybe I’m talking in circles now. Maybe I’m just tired of trying to wrap my mind around the bullshit notion that it can be someone’s ‘fault’ that someone else they dated and HAD CONSENSUAL SEX WITH is “different” as a result of that relationship. Maybe I can’t come up with many linear ideas on this subject because there is so much overlapping and intersectionality going on that if I had an infographic to accompany this post it would look like a spirograph picture. Or something. I just can’t anymore.
I just know that the next time someone asks me of my intentions simply by fucking (and maybe cooking for) them, I’m likely to reference “Fall In Love (Your Funeral)” by Miss Badu herself: “… we gon’ take this shit from the top/ you’ve got to change jobs/ and change gods,” just to see their reaction.
* In the song “A Life in the Day of Benjamin André,” 3 Stacks says himself that he was drawn to her because her headwrap reminded him of the turbans he wore to cover his locks. He was already dressing like Geoffrey Holder’s character from Annie at this point; I doubt that the ensembles from the “Rosa Parks” video were a far stretch.
** Pants that, per the bonus DVD that came with Com’s Be album, Erykah asked about. As in, “Are you certain that you wanna wear crocheted pants, Lonnie?” Watch the interview. I’m not searching for any video of it. Further, a feature on this same DVD with Com’s then-stylist, on the same DVD, suggests that he never was really any good at dressing himself. At least, once he started thrifting and wearing less baggy clothes — totally in line with the change of life that many of us experience as we enter our mid-to-late thirties.
*** I think this is what comedian Katt Williams may have been trying to say in “The Pimp Chronicles” when he said that any cis woman, as long as she has a vagina, rules the fucking world. If only it were actually that simple, or even true.