Soul singer Erykah Badu and rapper Common sweeten Brown Sugar with an ode-fashioned romance of their own.
Unbeknownst to her, Erykah Badu began writing ”Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop)” almost a decade ago. ”I was working as a waitress at a coffee shop, watching BET,” Badu recalls, ”and Common’s ‘I Used to Love H.E.R.’ came on. I remember watching the video to the end, and then I just turned the TV off. That was it. I didn’t want to hear nothing else.”
At the time, Common was a little-known MC from Chicago, a hip-hop purist lyrically lamenting, in ”I Used to Love H.E.R.,” the decline of his genre: ”Now she’s a gangsta rolling with gangsta bitches.” In this summer’s Afro-boho screen romance Brown Sugar, his song is the touchstone for the relationship between Sidney and Dre, two hip-hop fans who struggle with their love for the music, and for each other. ”It wasn’t exactly a Billboard top 20 hit,” Common jokes now, ”so it feels good for people to look back on it and let me know that the song was important.”
Asked to contribute a theme song for the movie, Badu found it natural to revisit the easy charms of her onetime video distraction. Though a completely new tune, her ”Love of My Life” strongly echoes Common’s music-as-an-estranged-lover metaphor — with an added twist. ”I wanted to do it from a woman’s perspective,” she says, ”[because] I think hip-hop is genderless.” Her tattered love song strikes the same ambivalent notes as Common’s original: ”When the tables turned,” she sings, ”he had to break.” As if to clarify, Badu wrote and codirected the accompanying video, which colorfully, even cartoonishly, chronicles the ups and downs of her lifelong affair with the genre.
Getting Common on the track to bridge generations and genders wasn’t hard at all. In the years since she first spied him on TV, the two have become sometime musical collaborators and ”best friends,” for lack of a more concrete description. ”We experiment with different parts of our relationship,” Badu, 30, says somewhat coyly. Common, 30, is no more direct. ”Erykah said something on the radio one day that really struck me: ‘Our bond is way greater than boyfriend and girlfriend.’ Whatever goes on with the relationship, I just want us to grow.”
While Badu and Common might be just as star-crossed as the lovers of Brown Sugar, they too intuitively grasp the power of the music to trump all doubts. ”Even if I didn’t know him at all,” Badu says, ”he would still be the one for the song. It would just be right.”