Born Erica Wright, February 26, 1972 ( some sources say, 1971) in Dallas, TX. Addresses: Record Company Universal Records, 1755 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
Erykah Badu released her first album, Baduizm, in 1997 to a rare degree of popular and critical acclaim. The Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter was hailed as an exceptionally gifted talent who effortlessly fused jazz singing styles of the past with 1990s-style R&B and hip-hop. Her fluent, highly individual vocalizing and spiritually-tinged songwriting were welcomed as something fresh and compelling. Badu's voice drew comparisons with that of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and, in particular, Billie Holliday. Writing for the online All-Media Guide, John Bush noted that her "languruous, occationally tortured vocals" and "delicate phrasing immediately removed her from the legion of cookie-cutter female R&B singers." In concert, she cultivated a mystical persona that drew upon African and New Age sources for inspiration. "Habitually attired in a long dress, silver bracelets, necklaces and rings, and a head wrap that juts up like a crown, Badu works the stage lighted by candles and surrounded by incense like a woman on a mission," wrote Kevin Powell in Rolling Stone.
From Badu's own perspective, her music synthesized a wide range of influences, from jazz artists like Holliday through such R&B figures of the 1960s and 1970s as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan. "Everything on the album [Baduizm] is a mixture of all those things I heard growing up as a black youth," she told New York Times writer Natasha Stovall. Later in the same interview, she stated, "I don't know the rules what you're supposed to sing or what category you're supposed to be in so I don't have any. I can't stand for someone to tell me, 'Well, we can't do that'."
Badu benefitted from growing up in a home that nurtured her creativity. Born Erica Wright in Dallas, Texas, she was raised by her mother Kolleen Wright and grandmother, both actresses involved in local theater. They both encouraged Erica to develop her artistic leanings, which included painting, dancing and acting as well as music. "I remember the first time I was in a show," she told the New York Times. "I was in the first grade. It was a Christmas play, and I sang 'Somebody Snitched On Me.' That's when I knew I could command the stage."
At age 14, she tried her hand at freestyle-rapping for a local radio station, KNON. After being accepted at Dallas' arts magnet high school, she gained notoriety as half of a female rap crew under the name MC Apples. "We were even better than a lot of the guy groups," Badu told Rolling Stone. "Shoot, I'm always going to be a freestyle fool. Rap is like the jazz of Billie Holiday's day." It was during her high school years that she decided to discard her "slave name." She changed the spelling of her first name to Erykah, which contained the Egyptian word "kah," meaning "inner light" or "inner self." Later, she changed her surname as well, taking "Badu" from a favorite scat-singing phrase. She subsequently learned that "badu" means "to manifest light and truth" in Arabic.
After high school, Badu enrolled at Louisiana's Grambling State University as a theater student. Before completing her studies, she returned to Dallas in 1993 and supported herself as a waitress and dance instructor while pursuing a music career. She initially formed a hip-hop duo called Erykah Free with her cousin, Robert "Free" Bradford. The pair soon earned local opening slots for such touring acts as the Wu-Tang Clan, D'Angelo, A Tribe Called Quest, Arrested Development and Mobb Deep, among others. Several recording offers followed, but the one Badu ultimately accepted from Kedar Entertainment was for her alone. Although Bradford eventually received production and songwriting credits on Baduizm, his relations with Badu became unavoidably strained.
Badu relocated to Brooklyn after her recording deal with the Universal Records distributed label Kedar Entertainment was secure. Label founder Kedar Massenberg began promoting her by distributing advance copies of her recordings at the 1996 Soul Train Music Awards. He arranged for Badu to record a remake of the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell duet "Your Precious Love" with R&B singer D'Angelo for the soundtrack to the 1997 film High School High. Her first single, the sensual, hypnotic "On & On," was released in January, 1998 and quickly became a number12 pop hit. A month later, Baduizm appeared, rising to number two on the pop album charts and eventually topping the triple-platinum sales mark. An outstanding debut effort, the album was co-produced by the Roots, a hip-hop duo, and featured such stellar session players as jazz bassist Ron Carter. "On & On" was followed up by "Next Lifetime," which also became a hit.
Making the most of her career momentum, Badu received praise as the co-director of videos for "On & On" and "Next Lifetime," the latter featuring her mother, brother and grandmother as extras. She dabbled in acting by appearing in a September 1997 episode of ABC-TV's One Life To Live and portraying a jazz-singing Creole sorceress in the 1998 film Blues Brothers 2000. During the summer of 1997, she joined forces with funk pioneer George Clinton and hip-stars Cypress Hill, the Pharcyde and Outkast on the Smokin' Grooves Tour across the U.S. That fall, Badu released her Live album, which featured her in an intimate concert setting with a three-piece band and a trio of background singers. In addition to live versions of songs found on Baduizm, the album included the new tune "Tyrone," a scathing portrait of a soon-to-be-former boyfriend set to a slow-burning beat. Live also featured Badu's covers of songs by her R&B forerunners, including Chaka Khan's "Stay."
Badu was honored in 1998 with Grammy Awards for Best R&B Album and Best Female R&B Performance. She spent the summer of that year on tour with Lillith Fair, the all-female concert series launched by singer Sarah McLachlan. In the midst of all this activity, she also found time for a personal life with Outkast member Andre "Dre" Benjamin and their son, Seven, born in November of 1997. (The child's name was chosen because seven is a prime number, which cannot be divided by any whole number except itself and zero.)
With two acclaimed albums behind her, Badu established herself as a major artist with no end to her success in sight. In interviews, she balanced self-confidence with a sense of her overall role in pop music. "It's a blessing, really," she told Billboard's Shawnee Smith as Baduizm began its ascent up the charts. "I can't take all the credit for it. It's my energy and my voice, but it was a team effort. I'm just a midwife aiding in the rebirthing process of music."
by Barry Alfonso
Erykah Badu's Career
Formed duo Erykah Free with cousin Robert "Free" Bradford c. 1993; signed with Universal/Kedar Entertainment as solo artist, recorded duet "Your Precious Love" with singer D'Angelo in 1996; released albums Baduizm and Live in 1997; appeared in the film Blues Brothers 2000, 1998.
Erykah Badu's Awards
Grammy Awards for Best R&B Album and Best Female R&B Performance, 1998.
- Selected discography
- Baduizm , Kedar Entertainment/Universal, 1997.
- Live , Kedar Entertainment/Universal, 1997.
September 16, 2003: Badu's album, Worldwide Underground, was released. Source: Yahoo! Shopping, shopping.yahoo.com/shop?d=product&id=1921983088, September 17, 2003.
August 9, 2004: Badu welcomed the birth of her second child, a daughter named Puma. She declined to identify the father. Source: People, August 9, 2004, p. 83.
- Larkin, Colin, editor, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze, 1998.
- Billboard, March 15, 1997.
- New York Times, April 6, 1997.
- Rolling Stone, February 20, 1997; March 20, 1997.
- "Erykah Badu," All-Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 21, 1999).
- Erykah Badu Biography," Rolling Stone Network, http://www.rollingstone.com (March 13, 1999).
- "Erykah Badu," Wall Of Sound, http://wallofsound.go.com (May 21, 1999).