Dallas' Erykah Badu hosted Sunday night's broadcast of the Soul Train Awards on BET and Centric (it was taped in Las Vegas Nov. 6). The 44-year-old neo-soul queen presided over a consistently entertaining and thoughtful show, an R&B hit parade more intent on maintaining musical quality than producing MTV-style silliness. Some highlights:
What did Badu do?
The singer and host opened the show with a medley of her hits, backed by Soul Train-worthy dancers. We heard bits of "Danger," "On and On" and "Love of My Life" before Badu stopped the music for an effervescent and confidently delivered monologue.
"Peace and light, y'all, sisters how y'all feel?" she said to kick it off, "Brothers, y'all alright?"
Badu then ran through her long list of nicknames ("She Ill" and "Analog Girl in a Digital World" included) in order to introduce herself properly.
After a few self-deprecating jokes regarding her famous exes, she took cellphone calls on stage as a sly reference to her just released 11-track mix tape, But You Can't Use My Phone (which has hit No. 1 on the iTunes album ranking).
Badu then joked that she was instituting a no-rapper policy at this year's awards show. That was the perfect setup for a bit of comedic shade: "Iggy Azalea, you can come because what you do is definitely not rap," Badu said. And Twitter went, "Oooooooohhh."
The host never stumbled during the two-and-a-half-hour show -- she was quite smooth with those intros. Are we at all surprised, considering Badu's theatrical roots?
Her best on-stage moment came about an hour in when she stepped out for another performance. The repeating chorus of new track "Phone Down" found Badu removing cellular devices from the hands of front row celebs, including Tyrese. After a bit of vamping, she moved into her musical victory lap -- the live classic kiss-off anthem, "Tyrone."
An actor claiming to be the real Tyrone interrupted, briefly transforming the song into a viable comedy act. But the host brought it all the way back around with a show-stopping high note at the end.
And folks will definitely be sharing the award show's pre-taped "Soul Cypher" segment. In her DJ Lo Down Loretta Brown mode, Badu created beats and let a few other soul pros improvise. K-Ci, Lalah Hathaway and Eddie Levert were among the vocal slayers. It sounded nice.
— Jill Scott's acceptance speech for the Lady of Soul Award was as theatrical and compelling as any of Badu's moments, and it had the same seamless flow from spoken word into song. The mini-set began with "Put Me Back Together," which bordered on gospel and allowed for some impromptu thank-yous after its choruses, and ended with an expansive rendition of "It's Love."
— The throwback moments stood out, like Jazmine Sullivan joining After 7 on the old chestnut, "Ready or Not." As did the gospel stunners from Erica Campbell and Tasha Cobbs.
— The Legend Award segment honoring Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds was stuffed with highlights, from the man himself on "Whip Appeal" to Brandy on "Sittin' Up My Room" and Fantasia on "Superwoman." Bobby Brown and Boyz II Men? The icing.
— Seemed appropriate for the Soul Train Awards to end with a step-tastic medley from R. Kelly. He capped off the night with some post Thanksgiving family-reunion feels.
Best New Artist: Jidenna
Best Dance Performance: "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)," Silento
Best Collaboration: "Post To Be," Omarion, Jhene Aiko and Chris Brown
Centric Certified Award: "Shame," Tyrese
Lady of Soul Award: Jill Scott
Song of the Year: "Uptown Funk," Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars
Best R&B/Soul Female Artist: Jill Scott