Standing just outside of Erykah Badu’s backstage trailer in Austin, Texas, the faint aroma of incense perfumes passersby. After being ushered in, the source reveals itself. It's not scented candles in the air, though. Less than an hour after performing a short, but mind-blowing set at the Red Bull Thre3Style showcase at South by Southwest, Badu is coolly taking a few pulls from a black cherry clove. She’s taken off the high heels she was rocking on stage, slipped into a pair of Adidas sneaks, and she’s unwinding in a tattered black shirt and khaki long johns.
Erykah’s not alone in the hazy room, either. There’s a load of male band mates—fittingly dubbed The Cannabinoids. She hand-picked this collective of producers, DJs, and visual artists. Just a day earlier (March 16), they released The Beat Tape, Vol. 1. It’s a brief thumper, featuring just over 14 minutes of spacey instrumentals laced with soul samples and strung together with movie clips and superb scratching—a taste of things to come.
The Cannabinoids plan on releasing their debut album later this year. But for now, Erykah just wants to introduce Complex to her crew, give props to the Filipino who beefed up her DJ skills, and explain how she and her buds get high off music together.
Written by Brad Wete (@BradWete)
What is the vibe of the beat tape?
Rob Free: The beat tape is really just a session, a freestyle session. It’s one of the first ones that we did and we put it in the archives, a few years later, we listened to it and we were like, “Yo, this is fire, we need to release this and let the people know what we’ve been doing.” A lot of people have been asking what the Cannabinoids have been doing and this is what we’ve been doing so it’s a lot more from where that came from and we wanna let the people know really what we’re about and that’s an example of what we do.
A lot of people are going to think this is a new group. But you’ve worked with a lot of these guys for years, right? You shouted a lot of them out on stage tonight.
Erykah Badu: I couldn’t really figure out what we should’ve done or whatever. I wish we would’ve gotten a chance to do that. Rob Free, who just spoke on the beat tape, Rob Free and I started together years ago. SXSW is one of our first places. Jah Born’s also known as Cerebral Cortex and Gray Matter. They call me HU-210. He did “On and On.” Then we got RC Williams aka JHW-33. We’ll explain what those are, those are Cannabinoid names.
Where do they come from? Can I go to a website or something to get all of these names?
Erykah Badu: Yes you can. The Cannabinoids, the name came out, because the Cannabinoids are the receptors in marijuana that go to the brain and change the condition of thinking, smelling or hearing or taste or hunger—and we represent the synthetic Cannabinoids which means we are making music that affects the brain. We want the audience to feel the intensity of it and our theme is “Welcome to the Human Brain and the Science of Addiction.” We want them to become addicted to what we do, who they are, and how we become one living, breathing organism. We got together maybe five or six years ago. We been rocking like this for a long time.
We want them to become addicted to what we do, who they are, and how we become one living, breathing organism.
I saw you last year at Rock the Bells. This is the same group?
EB: Absolutely. RC Williams is from Dallas, Texas as well. We went to the same high school, Arts Magnet, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. RC started working with me, he became my MD, my musical director. We all started working together, him and Jah Born make beats together a lot. They shared a studio at one time. They produced “Jump Up In The Air and Stay There.” They produced “Danger” and “On and On.” We got so many things we put together. Right here across from me is, steady on the grind, Symbolyc One, also known as NABILONE. I met him when he was in his group, Strange Fruit Project.
Strange Fruit was one of the most amazing production—and produced—rap groups that came out of the United States of America and they happen to be from Waco, Texas. And they asked me to be on one of their songs, “Get Live” and we did a video at my theater, Black Forest Theatre. That’s kind of how we met and from there I developed the Cannabinoids. Maybe a couple years after that, but I kept that in mind, you know? I really wanted to sign him to Control Freaq Records but he was too big, I couldn’t pay, he was too big. [Laughs]
Can you talk about that first interactions you guys had? The chemistry was amazing from jump?
RC: Well actually, like, she didn’t mention but she called me out of the blue one day. This was before all the records I did. She called me out the blue and she told me that ?uestlove had passed my group’s CD along to her and we spoke for a long time on the phone and she was telling me about how amazing it was and ever since that day we kept in contact. She always called to check on me and whatever and we just developed a friendship. That’s one thing about all of us together, we’re all really the same individuals because we all share a lot of the same qualities, just our qualities, just our priorities. Just the simple stuff, like being polite to others, tripping out, and having fun. We all share that and that’s one of the main things.
You guys are releasing an album in the summertime?
EB: Hopefully in the summertime but it kind of looks like, maybe, last quarter.
How far along are you guys in the process?
EB: 80 percent. We’re just perfectionists which brings me to this man right here. This is Mike Schaaf. He’s one of the engineers. Everybody in here is an engineer. All of us. So we’re all working for him. We all mix, we’re all producers. These are not musicians, these are producers. RC is a musician. Symbolyc One is a musician. For the most part, we’re producers and that’s what we do live on stage, live production. So we brought Mike Schaaf in at the end of the Cannabinoids beat tape because Mike Schaaf is an extraordinary mixer from Detroit!