At first glance, this weekend's one-night-only pairing of Erykah Badu and Childish Gambino at the Greek Theater might seem a little incongruous.
After all, the two artists hail from different scenes and different eras. Badu's highest-selling album Baduizm was released over 17 years ago amid the then-nascent neo-soul movement, while Gambino's star only recently rose with his sophomore album Because the Internet—and if he falls into any movement at all, it probably begins with an “http://.”
But this Friday's show in Berkeley is an inspired pairing, especially considering the average fanbase of each act. Imagine, if you will, a typical teenage Childish Gambino fan looking up from Snapchat for five minutes to be mesmerized by Badu's regal presence, with a full backing band, all dominant elegance and poise. And picture a late-thirties Badu fan, who might have stopped seeking out new music after graduating college years ago, discovering the playful wit and wordplay of a charismatic rapper that they'll be open-minded about because, hey, he was on Community.
Badu, of course, is incredible live. I saw over 100 shows in 2010, and her set at Outside Lands ranked right at the top. As if by ESP, her 11-piece band segued smoothly between each number, weaving quotes of Afrika Bambaata's “Planet Rock,” Freddie Hubbard's “Red Clay” and Graham Central Station's “Happy to See You Again” throughout the set. Badu herself hovered above all of it, completely in command of the arrangements, wresting sweetness, sorrow, elation and drama from every song. The entire show felt timeless.
As his fans know, timelessness is not Gambino's stock in trade. Because the Internet is very much a modern-culture product, referencing E-Vites, Instagram, hashtags, email, texts, friend requests, Twitter and myriad other accoutrements of online life. Gambino quotes the “Ain't Nobody Got Time for That” meme, samples Kanye's infamous “You Ain't Got The Answers, Sway!” outburst, and even manages to turn the Worldstar chant—the soundtrack to hundreds of viral fight videos—into a bona fide chorus.