Erykah Badu Busks on 42nd St to Little Fanfare

Courtesy of Tony Blasko via Red Bull
Courtesy of Tony Blasko via Red Bull

It would seem multi-platinum, Grammy-winning artist Erykah Badu, despite her abundance of talent and lengthy, tremendously successful career, probably wouldn’t be able to hack it as a New York City busker. The singer, once dubbed the “queen of neosoul,” posted a video on YouTube earlier today showing her spending about five minutes attempting to garner some spare change from passersby in the Times Square area. She dubs this performance of sorts a “Street Hustle Experiment.”

Badu starts the video, entitled Live Nudity, by announcing her location, 42nd Street and Avenue of the Americas, and wondering aloud, “I just kinda always wanted to see what it would be like to, you know, sing for money on the streets.” Her stated premise is accompanied by a visual qualification of sorts, an on-screen note acknowledging that she hasn’t put out a record in nigh unto four years. She then begins her performance, which makes up most of the seven-minute-long “e.badu iphone films” production.

It’s absolutely worth noting that, for all her musicality, Badu does not appear to try particularly hard to win the public’s attention and approval. She spends the majority of her video—which she appears in decked out in all manner of shiny, golden bling—essentially panhandling in song. At one point, she spots a passing man, singing at him, “Hey, sir, can you help me? [vocal run] I need some money!” Indeed, the phrase “I need some money” comprises much of what Badu is documented repeating throughout the course of this video.

Badu, during the course of her street performance, takes cues from a friend of hers. She remains in one spot for most of the “experiment,” but is shown walking through the crowd toward the end, her hat, held out to her intended audience bottom-up, grasped firmly in hand. All told, Badu walks away by the end of the video with $3.60, which she spends a minute and a half counting at the end of the video while repeating the phrase, “Look at all this money.”

The video has already sparked a predictable bout of controversy, evidenced by its already heated Comments section as well as a fiery editorial from Gawker’s Jordan Sargent, who urges readers to “Please boo New York.” He goes on to end the “debate” about whether “New York is a terrible city,” indicting the whole of Manhattan for the failure of a Times Square crowd to recognize “the presence of one of the great R&B singers of a generation.” Sargent’s take on the video has already earned him considerable pushback from commenters, some of whom seem to regard “This whole publicly stunt [as] dumb and disingenuous.”

Whether contrived or sincere, Badu’s “Street Hustle Experiment” is inarguably succeeding in generating attention for the singer, who has been working on a new album since May 2013. The untitled record does not yet have a release date, though Badu has been meeting with representatives from her label to finalize one.