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Erykah Badu – Can do no wrongErykah Badu was born Erica Wright in South Dallas in 1971. Her mother raised her single-handedly along with Erykah's brother and sister, since their father, William Wright, Jr., had left the family home early in their lives. In order to provide for her family, the children's grandmother often helped in looking after them while Erykah's mother, Kollen Maria Gipson (Wright), performed as an actress in various theatrical productions. Having been influenced significantly by her mother, Erykah had her first taste of showbiz at the tender 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, a talented beat-boxer in the 80's and who is now a very successful session musician in his own right. 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, which, when translated from Arabic, means 'can do no wrong'. Badu is also an African name for the 10th born child used for the Ashanti people in Ghana.
Upon graduating from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Badu went on to study theater at Grambling State University. Choosing to concentrate on music full-time, she decided to leave 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 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 to 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 of 2003, the Worldwide Underground EP 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 EP.
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 of 2007, and the new album, titled New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), was released on February 26th of 2008. Part two of the album is currently slated for July 2008 release.
Badu's lyrics are highly personal philosophies which throw emotional challenges in the face of the listener. She weaves unusual musical influences together creating a rich texture of sound. In many instances she references old school rappers and songs in her songs, adding a general Hip hop sensibility to her music.
Some music journalists have labeled her 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.
Badu has a son named Seven Sirius Benjamin born in 1997 with ex-partner André 3000 of OutKast. On July 5, 2004, Badu gave birth to a daughter, Puma Rose, in her Dallas home. The father of her second child is West Coast rapper The D.O.C.
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 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.
Badu divides her time between a one-bedroom apartment in Fort Greene, Brooklyn and Dallas.
Badu also serves as an activist in South Dallas where she grew up. Her charity organization, Beautiful Love Incorporated Non Profit Development (B.L.I.N.D.) provides community-driven development for inner-city youth through music, dance, theater and visual arts. (J MILLER)
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