Erykah Abi Wright (born Erica Abi Wright; February 26, 1971), better known by her stage name Erykah Badu (/ˈɛrɨkə bɑːˈduː/), is an American singer-songwriter, record producer, activist, and actress. Badu's career began after opening a show for D'Angelo in 1994 in her hometown; record label executive Kedar Massenburg was highly impressed with her performance and signed her to Kedar Entertainment. Her first album, Baduizm, was released on February 11, 1997. It spawned three singles: "On & On", "Next Lifetime" and "Otherside of the Game". The album was certified triple Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Badu's first live album, Live, was released on November 18, 1997 and was certified double Platinum by the RIAA.
Badu's second studio album, Mama's Gun, was released on October 31, 2000. It spawned three singles: "Bag Lady", "Didn't Cha Know?" and "Cleva". The album was certified Platinum by the RIAA. Badu's third album, Worldwide Underground, was released on September 16, 2003. It generated two singles: "Danger" and "Back in the Day (Puff)". The album was certified Gold by the RIAA. Badu's fourth album, New Amerykah Part One, was released on February 26, 2008. It spawned two singles: "Honey" and "Soldier". New Amerykah Part Two was released in 2010 and fared well both critically and commercially.
Musically 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 subgenre. 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. As an actress, she has played a range of supporting roles in movies including Blues Brothers 2000, The Cider House Rules and House of D. She also speaks at length in the documentaries Before the Music Dies and The Black Power Mixtapes.
Erykah Badu was born Erica Abi Wright in Dallas, Texas on February 26, 1971. Her mother raised her, her brother Eevin, and her sister Nayrok alone after their father, William Wright Jr., deserted the family early in their lives. To provide for her family, the children's grandmother often helped to look after them while Badu's mother, Kolleen Maria Wright (née Gipson), worked as an actress in theatrical productions. Influenced by her mother, Badu had her first taste of show business at the age of four, singing and dancing with her mother at the Dallas Theater Center.
By the age of 14, Badu was free-styling for a local radio station alongside such talent as Roy Hargrove. In her youth, she had decided to change the spelling of her first name from Erica to Erykah, as she believed her original name was a "slave name." The term 'kah' signifies the inner self. She adopted a surname of Badu because it is her favorite jazz scat sound; also, among the Akan people in Ghana, it is the term for the 10th-born child.
Upon graduating from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Badu went on to study theater at Grambling State University, a historically black university. To concentrate 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. He 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 debut album, was released in early 1997. The album was met with critical and commercial success, debuting at number two on the Billboard charts and number one on the US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. Baduizm 's commercial and critical success helped establish Badu as one of the emerging neo soul genre's leading artists. Her particular style of singing drew many comparisons to Billie Holiday. Baduizm was certified three times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, Gold by the British Phonographic Industry and the Canadian Recording Industry Association.
The album produced four singles, the lead single "On & On" was released in January 1996, and reached number twelve on the US Billboard Hot 100 charts and the UK Singles Charts, as well as making an appearance on the New Zealand charts. The album and lead single also gave Badu her first nomination and win at the Grammy Awards, where On & On won Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and the album won Best R&B Album.
Badu recorded her first live album, Live, while pregnant with Seven, and the release of the recording coincided with his birth.The album was released on November 18, 1997 and reached number four on the US Billboard 200 and number one on the US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.The album was certified two times platinum by RIAA for shipments of over two million copies. The album's lead single, "Tyrone", was released in October 1997 and became another R&B hit single. "Tyrone", lyrically, is 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", by The Roots and American female rapper Eve, co-written by Jill Scott, the song peaked at 39 in the US and 31 in the UK. The song went on to win The Roots and Badu a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 1999.
Badu has been a vegan for over 20 years: "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."Badu splits her time between Dallas and the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.
In 1995 Badu became involved with rapper André 3000 of OutKast, with whom she had her first child, a son named Seven Sirius Benjamin, who was born on November 18, 1997. Their relationship ended sometime in 1999. Their relationship inspired André 3000 to write the song "Ms. Jackson". In 2000, Badu was in a romantic relationship with fellow Soulquarian Common; their relationship ended in 2002. On July 5, 2004, Badu gave birth to a daughter, Puma Sabti Curry; Puma's father is West Coast rapper The D.O.C., originally from Dallas. On February 1, 2009, Badu gave birth to her third child, a girl named Mars Merkaba Thedford; with her boyfriend of five years, rapper Jay Electronica. It was a family event attended by Puma and Seven as well.
On April 2, 2010, Badu was charged with disorderly conduct, a class C misdemeanor, for appearing nude in Dealey Plaza in Dallas while filming the social-political, performance art, self-directed music video for "Window Seat." No witnesses called police at the time of the incident, but the Dallas police actively sought witnesses after the release of the video. Sgt. Warren Mitchell said the decision to cite Badu for a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 – came after witness Ida Espinosa, 32, of Vernon, offered a sworn statement to police Thursday, April 1. Espinosa declined to comment to The Associated Press. On April 28, 2010, Badu pled not guilty rather than paying the fee by mail. On August 13, she paid the $500 ticket and began a term of six months' probation.
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