Erica Abi Wright (born February 26, 1971), better known by her stage name Erykah Badu, is an American recording artist, record producer and actress. Her work includes elements from R&B, hip hop and jazz. She is best known for her role in the rise of the neo soul sub-genre, and for her eccentric, cerebral musical stylings and sense of fashion. She is known as the "First Lady of Neo-Soul" or the "Queen of Neo Soul".
Early in her career, Badu was recognizable for wearing very large and colorful headwraps. For her musical sensibilities, she has often been compared to jazz great Billie Holiday. She was a core member of the Soulquarians, and is also an actress having appeared in a number of films playing a range of supporting roles in movies such as Blues Brothers 2000, The Cider House Rules, and House of D, she is also very prominent in the documentary film Before the Music Dies.
Erykah Badu was born Erica Abi Wright in South Dallas, Texas, on February 26, 1971. Her mother raised her and her brother and sister alone; their father, William Wright, Jr., had deserted the family early in their lives. To provide for her family, the children's grandmother often helped in looking after them while Erykah's mother, Kolleen Maria Gipson (Wright), performed as an actress in theatrical productions. Influenced by her mother, Erykah had her first taste of show business at the age of 4, singing and dancing with her mother at the Dallas Theatre Centre. By the age of 14, Erykah was free-styling for a local radio station alongside such talent as Roy Hargrove. In her early youth, she decided to change the spelling of her name from Erica to Erykah, as she firmly believed her original name to be her 'slave' name. The term 'kah' signifies the inner self. Badu is also an African name for the 10th born child used for the Ashanti people in Ghana. Additionally in a letter written to Erykah from her father, "Badu in Arabic means truth and light...good choice kid." Erykah Badu currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.
Upon graduating from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Badu went on to study theater at the historically black college Grambling State University. Concentrating on music full-time, she left the university in 1993 before graduating and took on several minimum wage jobs to support herself. She taught drama and dance to children at the South Dallas Cultural Center. Working and touring with her cousin, Robert "Free" Bradford, she recorded a 19-song demo, Country Cousins, which attracted the attention of Kedar Massenburg, who set Badu up to record a duet with D'Angelo, "Your Precious Love," and eventually signed her to a record deal with Universal Records.
Baduizm, Badu's highly acclaimed debut album, was released in early 1997 and debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts. Lead single "On & On" reached #12 on the singles charts in both the U.S. and UK. Badu received notice for her introspective lyrics and jazzy, bass-heavy sound, and was hailed as one of the leading lights of the burgeoning neo soul genre. Her sophisticated style of singing drew many comparisons to Billie Holiday. Baduizm eventually went triple platinum and, along with "On & On," won Grammy Awards
at the 1998 ceremonies.
During that year, Badu became involved with rapper André 3000 of OutKast, with whom she had a child, Seven, who was born in 1997. Their relationship ended sometime in the late 90s. Badu recorded her first live album, Live, while pregnant with Seven, and the release of the recording coincided with the birth of her child. Live reached #4 on the Billboard charts, selling double platinum, and spawned another R&B hit single in "Tyrone", a song chiding a selfish, cheap, and inattentive boyfriend. Badu also collaborated with the Roots (who had previously handled production duties on a number of tracks on Baduizm) on their breakthrough 1999 release, Things Fall Apart. She was featured on the song "You Got Me", co-written by Jill Scott, which hit the top 40 and won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.
After taking some time off to raise her child, Badu returned in 2000 with Mama's Gun, an album more organic in sound than her previous studio album, and primarily produced by the Soulquarians and noted bassist Pino Palladino. A remix of one of the album's songs, "Bag Lady," was issued as the first single and topped the R&B charts for seven weeks. The album was well-received, with the lyrical content winning notices from many publications who found some of her lyrics hard to decipher on her initial releases. Despite not charting as high as her first two albums, Mama's Gun was another platinum-selling success, and "Bag Lady" was nominated for a Grammy.
By 2000, Badu was in a romantic relationship with fellow Soulquarian Common, and "Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)" was released as a collaboration between the two on the Brown Sugar soundtrack. "Love of My Life" hit #9 on the pop charts, topped the R&B listings, and Badu was awarded her fourth Grammy for the song in 2003.
After the release of Mama's Gun and "Love of My Life", Badu went through a period of writer's block. She hit the road throughout 2002 and much of 2003 on what she dubbed the "Frustrated Artist Tour", in search of inspiration to write and perform new material. The conclusion of the tour saw Badu head back to the studio with new material, and in September 2003, the Worldwide Underground album was released. More jam-oriented than any of her prior releases, Badu was quoted as saying that the release was designed to serve as one continuous groove. Worldwide Underground reached #3 on the Billboard charts and was certified gold not long after its release, and Badu received four further Grammy nominations for the album.
Badu also contributed to Zap Mama's album Ancestry in Progress (2004), adding her vocals to the track "Bandy Bandy."
After almost four years and the birth of a daughter, Puma, it was revealed in 2007 that Badu had three albums in the works over the course of 2007 and 2008. "Honey", a new single produced by 9th Wonder, was leaked online in November 2007, and the new album, titled New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), was released on February 26, 2008. According to Nielsen Soundscan, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) has sold 359,000 copies in the United States Erykah Badu is set to perform at the 10th annual Voodoo Experience in New Orleans the weekend before Halloween 2008.
Erykah Badu is set to release her fifth studio album, New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) on March 30, 2010.
Badu's lyrics challenge listeners with their highly personal, emotional, philosophical, and political content. She weaves disparate musical influences together creating a rich texture of sound. References to old school rappers and songs add a general Hip hop sensibility to her music.
Some music journalists have labeled her Nu soul or neo soul, often comparing her to Billie Holiday in lyrical delivery and grouping her with D'Angelo in musical genre. An eclectic collaborator, she has performed with artists from many different genres and backgrounds, among them roots reggae musician and singer Burning Spear.
In the May 2008 Peach Magazine issue, Badu reflected on her change in genre and former practice of wearing headwraps. Having been dubbed the "Queen of Neo-Soul" in the 90's, she found the label inaccurate and meaningless, saying:
“ Neo-soul is dead. I never knew what that was anyway.”
But she states she definitely knows who she is today. A producer and director of her own videos and stage shows, Badu stated:
“ I try to be as honest as I can. Being humble is so 2007. ”
“ Art is my religions. You don't see the head wraps anymore because I am the head wrap.”
Badu splits her time between Dallas and Brooklyn, NY in her Fort Greene apartment. She has a son named Seven Sirius born in 1997 with ex-partner Andre 3000 of OutKast. From 2000 to 2002 she dated rapper Common. On July 5, 2004, Badu gave birth to a daughter, Puma Sabti, in her Dallas home; Puma's father is West Coast rapper The D.O.C. who is originally from Dallas, Texas. On February 1, 2009 Badu gave birth to her third child at home, a girl named Mars Merkaba, with her boyfriend of five years, rapper Jay Electronica. In attendance were her two children Puma and Seven.
Badu also remains an activist in her hometown of South Dallas. Her charity organization, Beautiful Love Incorporated Non Profit Development (B.L.I.N.D. 501c3), provides community-driven development for inner-city youth through music, dance, theater and visual arts. In the publication VegNews Magazine, July-August 2008 Ms. Badu stated: 'Vegan food is soul food in its truest form. Soul food means to feed the soul. And to me, your soul is your intent. If your intent is pure, you are pure'. This interview showed her vegan lifestyle.
In September 2008, fashion designer Tom Ford named Badu as the face for his White Patchouli Fragance.
In a controversial video for her new song "Window Seat" posted on March 29th 2010, Badu strips naked in public while walking to Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, close to the site of the John F. Kennedy assassination. Once Badu reaches the point close to the site where John F. Kennedy was assassinated, a shot rings out as the song ends, and Badu's head jerks back and she falls to the ground, completely nude. The video is a performance piece and has been both praised for its "beauty" and fluidity, and shunned for its "profanity" by the public.
Badu appeared in the films Blues Brothers 2000, The Cider House Rules, House of D, Before the Music Dies, and Dave Chappelle's Block Party. She is reported to have a leading role alongside Mos Def in the upcoming Indie film, Media:Bobby Zero, which tells a story of a struggling couple who hit rock bottom after Mos Def gives up his dream of artistic aspirations to pursue a advertising corporate job to make ends meet. She also appeared in scenes of the music video of Miko Marks' 2006 recording 'Mama' and Common's video for "The Light" as well as making a special appearance on the sitcom Girlfriends. She was named the latest muse to fashion designer Tom Ford in 2008 as the face of his White Patchouli fragrance. Ford, also long time friends with Badu, considered her the best choice for the campaign. “I have always considered her a true beauty … she just fits,” says Ford.
On March 17, 2010, Erykah Badu shed her clothes as she walked along a Dallas, Texas, sidewalk until she was nude and then fell near where President Kennedy was assassinated. The result was a controversial video for her song "Window Seat," which Badu said was "shot guerrilla style" with no crew and in one take. Children could be seen nearby as Badu stripped in Dealey Plaza, a popular tourist spot since Kennedy's 1963 assassination. She tweeted it was a shot against Groupthink.
Biography courtesy of Wikipedia