Erykah Badu

Erykah Badu Biography

THE year 1997 couldn't have possibly been any bigger for Erykah Badu. The sleepy-eyed twenty-something singer released two albums that wowed critics and fans alike; appeared on a soap opera and in her first feature film; directed two of her own music videos; headlined one of the summer's biggest tours; and somehow managed to find time to have a child. In the process, Badu, who has a voice like Billie Holiday and a musical sensibility that melds seventies soul with jazz and hip-hop, assumed the throne as the reigning queen of soul and R&B.

Born Erica Wright in Dallas, Texas, Badu was raised, along with her brother and sister, by their mother, Kolleen Wright. Since her husband had abandoned the family early on, Kolleen turned to her own mother for support in raising the children, while she made her living as an actress in local stage productions. By the age of four, Erica had performed professionally alongside her mother at the Dallas Theater Center. Immersed in the arts by Kolleen, young Erica painted, sang, and danced, and grew up to the seventies strains of the likes of Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan. Erica's adolescent years coincided with the rise in popularity of hip-hop (her first concert experience was Run D.M.C., with the Beastie Boys), and at the age of fourteen, she landed a gig freestyle-rapping for local radio station KNON. (She was backed by a beat-boxing Roy Hargrove, who would one day achieve fame in his own right as a jazz trumpeter.) She successfully auditioned for admittance to Dallas's arts magnet school, Booker T. Washington High. At Booker T., Erica, a.k.a. "MC Apples," performed as one half of a female rap squad. The nom de rap would not be the last name change she would undergo during her high school years. Declaring Erica Wright to be "a slave name," she changed the spelling of her first name to Erykah, because, as she explains, "'Kah' is the inner self, which can do no wrong." A new last name, Badu, resulted from a simple phrase that she would repeat over and over in a bit of scat-singing. She later made the discovery that the invented surname actually means "to manifest truth and light" in Arabic.

After completing high school, Badu commenced theater studies at Louisiana's Grambling State University. But in 1993, she made the decision to focus on music full-time. Though she was just a few credits shy of a diploma, Badu returned to Dallas and worked multiple day jobs to support herself - in fact, if you had a latte at Grinder's, a Dallas coffee house, between 1993 and 1995, you may well have been served by her. She also taught dance and acting to children at the South Dallas Cultural Center. Meanwhile, she collaborated with her cousin, Robert "Free" Bradford, to create a hip-hop act they dubbed Erykah Free.

In late 1994, Badu met Legacy Entertainment head Tim Grace while playing the part of "Cookie" in a trailer for The Boulevard, an action film being shot in her hometown. At the wrap party, she mentioned to Grace that she could sing; it took only one sample of her voice for him to immediately sign on as her manager. Badu and Free subsequently recorded a nineteen-song demo, and Grace was successful in booking them to open for A Tribe Called Quest, Method Man, Arrested Development, Mobb Deep, and others. The duo's demo eventually fell into the hands of Mobb Deep's manager, Tammy Cobbs, who in turn handed it off to Kedar Massenberg, neo-soul pioneer D'Angelo's manager. Massenberg liked what he heard, and arranged for Erykah Free to open a D'Angelo show in late 1995. Their performance went over big - big enough that Massenberg wanted to sign Badu as the first act on his new label, Kedar Entertainment.

But Badu was no longer an unknown in the music world, and Columbia Records was also dangling a record deal. After some consideration, Badu decided that Kedar cared more for her music than execs at bigger labels ever could. With her decision made, there was just one big hitch - the contract was written solely for Erykah Badu, not Erykah Free. Although Badu dedicated her debut album to Bradford, the situation understandably resulted in some unhappiness. As Bradford told Request magazine, "I was pissed to say the least. I feel like anybody in my situation would be. We talked. It was heated, you know what I'm saying?"

Badu left both her cousin and her hometown behind to record her solo debut, Baduizm, in Brooklyn. Long before the album's release, Massenberg started promoting his new act. He distributed 10,000 sampler cassettes at the 1996 Soul Train Music Awards, and scattered 2,500 copies of the track "On & On" among various radio stations and clubs. He also persuaded D'Angelo to record a new version of the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell classic "Your Precious Love" with Badu for the High School High soundtrack.

Baduizm hit shelves in February of 1997, and quickly rose to the top of the charts, achieving platinum status in under a month. Badu, something of a media darling, seemed to have every angle covered: not only did she have a hit single in "On & On," but she proved she could successfully balance her intense spirituality (she refers to her muse as "The Creator," wears African headwraps and ornate jewelry, and lights candles and incense before every performance) with her noteworthy business savvy ("If you're not prepared, you'll get jacked. It's beautiful and new to be spiritual, but I'm going to take advantage as well."). The "On & On" video, inspired by the film The Color Purple, received heavy play on MTV, VH1, and BET, and her live show garnered uniform praise. While playing the Smokin' Grooves tour over the summer, Badu was regularly singled out of a lineup that included such notables as Cypress Hill, the Pharcyde, Outkast, and seventies funkmaster George Clinton.

As the year advanced, the popularity and exposure of both Baduizm and Badu exploded. She directed her second video, for "Next Lifetime," which featured appearances by Andre "Dre" Benjamin of Outkast and Wu-Tang Clan's Method Man, as well as a cast of extras that included her mother, brother, and grandmother. In early September, Badu appeared on ABC's One Life to Live, just prior to winning four honors at the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards ceremony. She has since collaborated with Curtis Mayfield on a song for the Eve's Bayou soundtrack, and portrayed Queen Mousette, a witchy jazz diva, for the forthcoming feature film Blues Brothers 2000.

November was destined to be one of the biggest months of Badu's incredible year. On the eighteenth of the month, she released her second album, Live, which is composed of live tracks from Baduizm, in addition to a couple of new songs, "I'll Be the Moon" and "Tyrone." Bringing a bit of idol worship full circle, she also managed to work in a cover of Chaka Khan's "Stay." Badu had another debut on the eighteenth - her first child, Seven. The boy's father is Outkast member Dre, whom Badu has described as her "beloved partner and best friend." When queried about the origin of her son's name, Badu answered in typical elusive fashion: "[It] is a divine number which cannot be divided."

Erykah Badu Bio from Discogs

Grammy Award-winning American R&B/Soul singer, songwriter and actress born in Dallas, Texas on February 26, 1971.

She is known as the first lady of Neo-Soul.

Before she devoted herself to singing, she used to be a rapper by the name of MC Apple.

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