“My hair is an aesthetic choice. At the same time, how you wear your hair is a political statement as well,” insightful words spoken by award-winning singer, songwriter and fashion icon Erykah Badu. She has been hailed as one of the most gifted rhythm and blues singers of the current era and has earned her title as the Queen of neo-soul. Her voice has been compared to the legendary jazz singer, Billie Holiday.
Born Erica Abi Wright, on February 26, 1971 in Dallas, Texas to parents William Wright Jr and Kolleen Maria Wright (Gipson) was an actress. She is the oldest of two siblings Eevin and Nayrok. She was raised by her mother, two grandmothers and a godmothether after her parents separated.
She had an early exposure to performing arts as her mother and grandmother, both acted in local theater. Singing and dancing at the age of 4, she performed at the Dallas Theater Center and The Black Academy of Arts and Letters (TBAAL) under the guidance of her godmother, Gwen Hargrove, and uncle TBAAL founder Curtis King. By the age of 7, she had learned to play the piano. At the age of 14, she began freestyle rapping at a local radio station.
She attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas where she studied theater and dance and became known as the talented rapper MC Apples in the hip hop duo the Def Ones. While in school she changed the spelling of her name to Erykah: ‘kah’ meaning inner light in Egyptian, as she wanted to shed her “slave name.” In subsequent years she changed Wright to Badu, borrowing the word from a favored scatting phrase, which she later found meant to manifest light and truth in Arabic.
In 1989, after graduating from High School, she attented Grambling State University where she studied theater. She left the University in 1993 to focus on her music career. Working and touring with her cousin, Robert “Free” Bradford, she recorded a 19-song demo, Country Cousins, which attracted the attention of Kedar Massenburg. He made arrangements for her to record a duet with D’Angelo, “Your Precious Love”, and eventually signed her to a record deal with Universal Records.
In 1997, Erykah’s first single “On & On” was released and became an instant hit, as it topped the Billboard’s R&B chart, becoming the first neo-soul single to do so. Within a month Erykah’s first album, Baduizm, was released which hit no. 2 on the pop album charts and went triple platinum.
“On & On” won a Grammy Award and a Soul Train Music Award, while Baduizm won a Grammy, an American Music Award, two NAACP awards, and three Soul Train awards. In 2008,
Her second studio album, Mama’s Gun, was released in 2000. It spawned three singles: “Bag Lady”, which became her first top 10 single on the Billboard Hot 100 peaking at #6, “Didn’t Cha Know?” and “Cleva”. The album reached Platinum.
In 2003, she released a third album entitled Worldwide Underground, . It generated three singles: “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)”, “Danger” and “Back in the Day (Puff)” with ‘Love’ becoming her second song to reach the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #9. The album was marked Gold.
Her fourth album, New Amerykah Part One, was released in 2008. It spawned two singles: “Honey” and “Soldier”. New Amerykah Part Two was released in 2010 and fared well both critically and commercially. It contained the album’s lead single “Window Seat.” In 1998, she won a BET Award and MTV Video Music Award for Best Director for “Honey.”
In 1997, Erykah created a charity called Beautiful Love Incorporated Nonprofit Development (BLIND) with the goal of cultivating community development for inner city youth through the arts.
In 1998, she venured into acting and made her film debut in Blues Brothers 2000, playing Queen Mousette. She made her second appearances in The Cider House Rules (1999), where she played the character of Rose Rose. The film fared well, with Erykah receiving numerous awards and nominations including a win at the 2000 Black Reel Awards, as well as nominations for Screen Actors Guild Awards and Satellite Awards. She is also featured in House of D (2004), Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2005), The Land (2016) and What Men Want (2019).
In 2011, she became a certified doula. During a 2019 interview on Sway In The Morning, she revealed she’s helped deliver 40 babies and was training to become a mid-wife. She is also a third degree Reiki master, and a certified holistic health practitioner.
“I’d rather see a person with a natural mind and processed head, than a processed mind and natural head.”
“We as black people have to tell our own stories. We have to document our history. When we allow someone else to document our history, the history becomes twisted and we get written out. We get our noses blown off.”
“I encourage the use of intelliegence in every decision. I encourage creating.”
“You don’t have to believe everything you think.”
“I don’t feel like I need to preach to the world or nothing like that. I just feel like I share what I say, and if listeners get it, they get it. And I never underestimate the audience’s ability to feel me.”
“I planned my success. I knew it was going to happen.”
“I have a master plan as an artist. I’ve always said I’m not going to be punching nobody’s clock. I will work as an artist to survive in this world.”
“Man, I don’t want to have nothing to do with computers. I don’t want the government in my business.”
“I’m a performance artist first; I’m a recording artist second.”
“I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 19.”
“Hip-hop was created out of necessity. We needed to create some digitized things to help us understand what we were feeling.”
“No one chooses to raise children alone.”
“Personally, I don’t choose any particular religion or symbol or group of words or teachings to define me. That’s between me and the most high. You know, my higher self. The Creator.”
“I’m free. I just do what I want, say what I want, say how I feel, and I don’t try to hurt nobody. I just try to make sure that I don’t compromise my art in any kind of way, and I think people respect that.”
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