Who Is Erykah Badu?
Born in 1971 in Dallas, Texas, Erykah Badu was exposed to the arts early on, and eventually began to perform in shows at the local Dallas Theater Center. In 1996, Badu's demo caught the attention of music producer Kedar Massenburg, who signed her and paired her with D'Angelo to record the song "Your Precious Love." Kedar Entertainment later merged with Universal Motown. Today, Badu is best known for her soulful music style, which is showcased on albums such as the Grammy Award-winning Baduizm and 1997's Live.
Early Life and Music
Erykah Badu was born Erica Abi Wright on February 26, 1971, in Dallas, Texas. (She would later choose the moniker Erykah Badu—"kah" is an Egyptian term for one's "inner self," and "badu" is her favorite jazz-riff scat sound.) Raised by her actress mother, Kolleen Maria Gipson, Badu was exposed to the arts early on. She danced and sang for her mother from a very young age, and eventually began to perform in shows at the local Dallas Theater Center. When it came time for Badu to attend high school, she chose Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She flourished at the arts magnet school, focusing on singing and dance.
Badu was also active in the Dallas music community during this time, and even began freestyling on a local Dallas radio station under the name DJ Apples. Following her graduation from high school, Badu attended Grambling State University, a historically black institution in Grambling, Louisiana. She majored in theater and minored in quantum physics. In 1993, Badu left Grambling to pursue her career in music. She moved back to Dallas, where she worked as a drama teacher and as a waitress while she recorded a demo.
In 1996, Badu's demo caught the attention of music producer Kedar Massenburg, who signed her and paired her with D'Angelo to record the song "Your Precious Love." Kedar Entertainment, then a small start-up label, later merged with Universal Motown.
Badu's debut album, Baduizm, exploded onto the music scene in 1997 with soulful hits such as "On & On," "Next Lifetime" and "Appletree." The album marked a shift in the music of its time and began what was labeled a "neo-soul" movement. Baduizm received critical acclaim and won Badu two Grammy Awards, for best female R&B vocal performance and best R&B album.
Badu released her second LP, Live, later that year. During the recording, Badu was pregnant with her first child, son Seven Sirius, whose father is legendary Outkast artist André 3000. The album went double platinum, and Badu's unmatchable talent was firmly established with the album's breakout song, "Tyrone," which was completely improvised on stage.
In 1999, Badu collaborated with the distinguished hip-hop group the Roots to create the song "You Got Me." Badu struck Grammy gold yet again with the song, taking home the trophy for best rap performance by a duo or group. That same year, she made her big-screen debut, portraying the heartbreaking, tortured character Rose Rose in The Cider House Rules.
Badu's third album, Mama's Gun, was released in 2000. She also contributed to the soundtrack of the Spike Lee film Bamboozled. She toured throughout the next few years, on her "Frustrated Artist Tour," and in 2003 she released Worldwide Underground, a somewhat experimental album that featured some of hip-hop's finest. The song "Love of My Life Worldwide" features Angie Stone, Queen Latifah and Bahamadia, and once again won Badu a Grammy, this time for best R&B song.
Philanthropy and Further Accomplishments
In 2003, Badu also gave back to the community in which she had grown up by transforming the dilapidated Black Forest Theater in downtown Dallas into a space for charity events and theater. It would also serve as the offices for her nonprofit, B.L.I.N.D. (Beautiful Love Incorporated Nonprofit Development), which she founded in 1997 as a means of bringing culture and arts to inner-city areas to cultivate change.
In 2004, Badu gave birth to her second child, daughter Puma Sabti. The same year, she participated in the film Dave Chappelle's Block Party, performing several songs with fellow R&B superstars. The following year, Badu launched her own music label, Control FreaQ Records. The label's primary mission is to allow its artists creative freedom. Its first artist was Jay Electronica, with whom Badu would also become romantically involved.
Badu released her fourth studio album New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War in 2008. Rolling Stone named the album one of the year's best. In 2009, Badu and Jay Electronica announced the birth of their daughter, Mars Merkaba.
Badu's fifth studio album, New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh, emerged in 2010 with a softer tone than its predecessor. As the reigning queen of neo-soul, Badu continues to create music, art and spirituality everywhere she goes.
Known for speaking her mind, Badu caused an uproar with comments that appeared in a January 2018 article in Vulture. After refusing to judge comedian Bill Cosby on the accusations of sexual assault against him, she said, "I see good in everybody. I saw something good in Hitler." Asked to elaborate, she pointed out that Hitler was a painter, adding, "He had a terrible childhood. That means that when I’m looking at my daughter, Mars, I could imagine her being in someone else’s home and being treated so poorly, and what that could spawn. I see things like that."
Anti-Defamation League CEO Johnathan Greenblatt was among those who ripped Badu for the comments, tweeting: "I also like to think that there is good in all people, but Hitler is pure evil. I don't care if he painted or was a vegetarian; Hitler is responsible for the deaths of 6 million Jews & a war that claimed the lives of tens of millions. Shame on you for downplaying that."
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