On Thanksgiving, to coincide with the release of her "mixtape" But You Caint Use My Phone, Erykah Badu gave the world her phone number ... in pieces, in code hidden on three covers she tweeted in quick succession. This was the final one, the full cover:
Badu said anyone who could decipher the message was free to hit up her 214-area code burnout phone. And for a full week the burner's been lit up at all hours with anxious fans from around the world giddy at the prospect of exchanging words with the Grammy-winning pop star currently beefing with Iggy Azalea following Badu's turn as Soul Train Awards show host. Badu, calling from Brooklyn late Friday night, guesstimated, "I'm in the thousands. And it's been hard keeping up with 'em -- as I'm FaceTiming someone they keep pouring in. I keep having to hit decline or send to them to voicemail while I am FaceTiming someone else. It's nonstop."
Only, as it turns out, all the calls haven't been going to Badu's burner.
Since Thanksgiving night, another woman in Dallas has been getting calls meant for the singer-songwriter, who never counted on the fact there would be more than one way to decipher those digits. Her name is Amanda Workman, and she owns a company called Cultural Concierge, which, she explains, helps "companies who are looking to expand their products globally but don't know how to do it culturally." And until last week, she hates to admit, she had no idea who Erykah was.
Workman, who's going to school while trying to run a budding business, says she went to bed early Thanksgiving night and set her phone on silent -- she needs her sleep. And when she woke up Friday morning she saw she'd missed 17 calls from all over. She panicked, just a little bit.
"I thought, 'Some poor family must be having an emergency and these people all have the wrong the wrong number,'" Workman says. "I was just hoping everything was OK. Finally I answered one, and I said, 'Whoever you are looking for is not here -- and is everything OK?' The lady started laughing and she told me about Erykah Badu putting out her number, and I said, 'Who?'
"I had no idea who she was, which I guess is horrible, but I am a budding entrepreneur working on a Master's degree, so I don't get out much. So I got online, read about her campaign, and tweeted at her -- and they still kept coming all week long."
All day. And all night. Workman says she could avoid the ones coming in at 3:30 in the morning. But she had to pick up the daytime calls. You never know. Could have been a potential client.
A friend suggested that Workman pick up the phone and tell the person on the other end, "This isn't Erykah, but you need to call Tyrone," a reference to Badu's 1997 hit single. Which is pretty genius.
Finally, Workman, who's also a travel blogger, posted a note to her Facebook page Thursday asking if anyone out in the ether knew Badu. And, sure enough, a friend of hers knew Badu's cousin. Dallas, in case you were unaware, is just Mayberry with a more extensive highway system.
"And within an hour, her cousin said, 'Erykah would like your phone number,' which was very cool," Workman says. "She called me herself to apologize."
"She explained what happened and how she couldn't get any sleep," Badu says. "Amanda said, 'I am sure you're an awesome person, but I can't get any sleep. She thought I was pretty cool for giving a number to the fans. I thought it was cute."
And so, at 10 Friday night, Badu popped on Periscope and Twitter to explain what had happened and give out the number.
Badu says she's disappointed she had to put an end to what's ostensibly a feelgood ad campaign for the mixtape, since she had other things planned.
"I wanted to reveal that on the last album cover, the full phone number is hidden in a word," Badu says. "It's been there all the time. And the first 10 people who found it, those people would get something. They'd be invited to a secret show or get to be on a fundraising committee, because a part of the iTunes sales are going to a cause all the fans will help me decide. A lot of people think it should go toward clean drinking water globally, which I thought was awesome. So I thought the people who figured out the word could meet with me and be ambassadors."
But she's OK with how it ended. So's Workman.
"I wasn't angry," she says. "It's a fun story. I just wondered: What kind of fan calls their favorite singer at 3 in the morning? It's hilarious. On Periscope last night, she did call me a middle-aged white woman. I mean, I'm white but not middle-aged." Workman laughs. "We are gonna try to have coffee when she comes into town.
"The irony of all this is thst the title of her mixtape is But You Caint Use my Phone. Well, you can't use my phone. But you can call hers."