In a recent interview for Vulture, acclaimed neo-soul legend Erykah Badu praised Hitler as a good artist. One, no he wasn’t. Two, stop it.
During the interview, several infamous people came up: XXXTentacion, a rapper who once threatened to statutorily rape his fans’ sisters, and fallen icons Bill Cosby, and Louis C.K.
The interviewer, David Marchese did a phenomenal job at getting to some of the harshest issues and criticisms people have had with the things the singer has said in the past.
The most important, for this interview, came when mentioning her trip to Palestine back in 2008.
Said Badu, “…and journalists asked me, ‘Do you believe in Louis Farrakhan? Do you follow him?’ Sure I do. I’ll follow anyone who has positive aspects. He single-handedly changed half of the Nation of Islam to clean eating, clean living, caring for their families. He has flaws — like any man — but I’m not responsible for that.”
Her statements hearken back to some Louis Farakhan made in 1984 in which Farrakhan mentions Hitler was a “great man,” even though he “wasn’t great for me, as a Black man, he was great for Germany.” Farrakhan goes on to say, “I’m not proud of Hitler’s record with the Jews, but,” and as soon as you mention something bad about Hitler then say “but” you’re pretty much dead to me—because I know what’s coming next. Praise. And that’s a problem for me because Neo-Nazis in America would gladly sacrifice Farrakhan or any other black person a million times over in the name of the Fürer. I did go back later and listen to the full speech, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth.
Badu does make some good points about not judging the entirety of what people do based on a few bad things that they do. Such as when she says: “People can be bad for certain things. They could be bad around children. They could be bad with power. Are those people all ‘bad’? Could be. Maybe they need to get kicked off the planet. I don’t know. Each thing is individual.”
But her follow up was the most unfortunate part of the conversation:
Badu: But I’m not an anti-Semitic person. I didn’t even know what anti-Semitic was before I was called it. I’m a humanist. I see good in everybody. I saw something good in Hitler.
Interviewer: Come again?
Yeah, I did. Hitler was a wonderful painter.
No, he wasn’t! And even if he was, what would his skill as a painter have to do with any “good” in him?
“Okay, he was a terrible painter. Poor thing. He had a terrible childhood. That means that when I’m looking at my daughter, Mars, I could imagine her being in someone else’s home and being treated so poorly, and what that could spawn. I see things like that. I guess it’s just the Pisces in me.”
She also defends Bill Cosby, but by now, the brunt of the impact of her earlier statements has already lulled the reader into her sense of normalcy. And I must stress how admirable it is that Ms. Badu wants to make the distinction between a terrible person and a person who just makes terrible statements. It’s a very fair point. Too often we see issues conflated and the masses turn cold to a person in the media based merely off a wrong turn of phrase.
When evaluating what she’s done and what she’s said, we must remember that this is the same woman who strolled through Dallas nude, near where JFK was assassinated, for which she was fined $500. She once sang for the King Mswati III of Swaziland, a dictator charged with multiple human rights violations, for his birthday. In a 2016, now deleted tweet, Badu voiced her agreement with a school policy that banned young girls from wearing short skirts. She then hefted some of the blame on the girls for being assaulted, by saying that “young girls are attractive,” and “boys are distracted.”
That being said, I love Ms. Badu. I always have. Since I was a teenager. I love her voice, her free-spirited attitude, and her thoughtful, patient consciousness. Her uncanny ability to take criticisms and have them drip off of her, then to use them as a form of empowerment in verse. She is the epitome of “woke,” which you see in the lyrics to most every song she’s ever penned. One of the few artists who chose art over compromise. So, in one sense, Badu was absolutely right: there is good in people. Some people.
Making a statement to intentionally incite hate and hateful rhetoric is the enemy of progress. Free-speech is one of the cornerstones of democracy, absolutely, and that’s what makes it so important to be vigilant when people fill that free-speech with the types of hate that for centuries has proven to feed the bloody hearts of blood-thirsty men. The deed after the speech is an opioid deadlier than those being self-administered across the nation. It comes from those devoid of empathy who have acted on their carnality in the worst ways through raping, destroying, pillaging. Those with the will, the means, and the speech with which to carry out genocide are the irredeemable ones. We forget this sometimes: Some people are everything your nightmares warned you about. Some people, to borrow a phrase from Alfred in The Dark Knight, “Just wanna watch the world burn.”
I will always promote Erykah Badu and what I see in her, the good I see in her, despite comments like these, as they are but a sound bite of the whole of the person. Contrary to what she’s said, there are individuals who are just pieces of shit and should get the worst of the worst. I truly believe that. And they absolutely deserve a reservation for a room in the 9th circle of hell—a room too short to lie down in, with a ceiling too low to stand up in. With any luck, Hitler is there, getting a pitchfork up the keister every time someone praises him. Music to my ears.