Erykah Badu To Supervise Music For New Comedy Central Animated Series Legends Of Chamberlain Heights

In the April 25 issue of The New Yorker, Kelefa Sanneh profiles the Dallas R&B icon Erykah Badu and points out to the world what many Dallasites have known for some time, that the lady once dubbed the Queen of Neo-Soul actually wears many a title.

Through intimate access, Sanneh compellingly shows Badu wearing many hats long familiar to her dedicated fans — singer, muse, outlier ,mentor, provocateur, fashionista, mother, doula — but, toward the end of his piece, Sanneh adds at least one new role to Badu’s resume. He reveals that Badu has been “working on the music” for a new Comedy Central animated series called Legends of Chamberlain Heights, which is co-executive produced by Badu’s latest beau, Carl Jones (Black Dynamite, The Boondocks).

Badu tells Central Track that she will formally act as the show’s music supervisor.

“I’m acting as the conductor and the orchestra,” Badu says. “I have to look at the clips they send me and create all of the music from scratch, acquiring sounds and musicians along the way.”

She should be doing that for some time, too. The show, which will debut with a 10-episode run in September, is already being considered for a second season, Jones tells Central Track.

“It’s a top priority at Comedy Central,” Jones says, revealing too that the show will follow South Park when it debuts.

(A representative for Comedy Central tells Central Track there is “no official news yet” on a second season.)

Co-created by former UCLA basketball players Quinn Hawking and Josiah Johnson, Legends of Chamberlain Heights tells the story of three friends who ride the pine on their high school basketball team in the fictional urban community of Chamberlain Heights. Says Jones, who notes that there are some tonal similarities between Legends of Chamberlain Heights and his previous work on The Boondocks: “They are legends only in their own minds. They sit on the bench on their basketball team, but they also kind of sit on the bench of life.”

Image courtesy of Comedy Central.
While pondering whether to join the production team for the show, Jones showed Badu the pilot he’d been given as part of the pitch. Ultimately, it was Badu, who describes the show as “South Park meets Fat Albert,” and her interest in it that convinced Jones to sign on.

“She loved it,” Jones shares, laughing. “She’s such a hypebeast. She always has her finger on the pulse of what’s hot — and she knows what she’s talking about.”

Once fully on-board himself, Jones then tapped Badu to oversee the show’s music — everything from scores to original soundtrack contributions. Badu is no stranger to the world of film and television — she most recently stars in the new film The Land, which she co-produced with Nas and which just recently premiered at the Dallas International Film Festival — but admits she’s only “dabbled” in music supervision for such mediums previously.

“I was being considered for the music supervisor on BET’s Being Mary Jane,” Badu says. “I wasn’t selected, but somehow all of my ideas were.”

On Legends of Chamberlain Heights, Badu’s influence will be clear. She says producers will approach her time-stamped video and an idea — a tone, a vibe or perhaps a specific song reference that may have been used as a placeholder during an animation — and that it is then her responsibility to execute on it in a way that fits the feel of the show. Her main directive, she says, is to avoid licensing fees. To that end, she and her collaborators — perhaps most notably Dallas producer Picnictyme — will be using their own original compositions at most every turn, employing many of her usual Dallas players (The Gritz, The Cannabinoids, etc.) as they do. But “it’s mostly just me and Picnic,” Badu says, noting that at least one song from Picnictyme’s Booty Fade group with DJ Sober has already made the cut in one of the seven episodes she’s completed work on to date.

“The dope thing is we’re getting a sound that’s totally unique from most shows — and not just animated shows,” Jones says. “She’s giving the show such a unique fingerprint. From a creative standpoint, it’s cool to get an original Badu sound. It gives the show a certain charm. It’s amazing, man. She’s incredible. I feel like the sky’s the limit for her. She should be scoring feature films. She has such a sense of story; it’s just something that’s innate to her. I don’t think anyone’s ever seen a show scored like this. She’s such a huge component to the show. It’ll be such a visual and audio experience.”

Specifically, Jones says he’s been impressed with the comedic chops Badu has (once again) flashed in this role, and how well it fits with what Jones describes as Legends of Chamberlain Heights‘ “very edgy” material. For an episode called “The Legend of Tupaquia,” in which the show’s characters discover that the rapper Tupac is alive, living life as a transgender woman who works in a local strip club called The Moose Knuckle, Badu was asked to make music that could both be stripped to, as well as create full raps to be performed. Jones describes Badu’s contributions in those and other regards as “very funny.”

“We could probably release an album for each episode,” Jones further adds. “And I think [Comedy Central] should. If any show should have a soundtrack, it’s this one.”

Badu’s influence can probably be felt beyond the music too: “To be honest, I consult with her on most of the stuff I’m involved with,” Jones says. “She’s such a soundboard for me.”

Jones and Badu each expect that kind of repartee to continue: Together, the two have formed a new entity called Control Freaq Entertainment (borrowings its name from Badu’s many other ventures), which Jones says will “develop properties consistent with [Badu’s] brand and her lane, and bring what she does to the mainstream — TV, film, multiple platforms of original content.”

Adds Badu: “It’s going to be a big year.”

Cover photo by Pete Freedman.
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