Erica Abi Wright known professionally as Erykah Badu is an American singer-songwriter, record producer, actress and the queen of Neo-Soul music.
Erykah Badu was born Erica Abi Wright in Dallas, Texas. Her mother raised her, her brother Eevin, and her sister alone after separating from their father, William Wright Jr. To provide for her family, the children’s maternal and paternal grandmothers often helped look after them.
Read Also: KOKOnista Of The Day: Tiara Thomas’ I Can’t Breathe Is Most Empowering Song You’ll Hear This YearBadu had her first taste of show business at the age of four, singing and dancing 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 14, Badu was freestyling 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 the surname “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.
After 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. She left the university in 1993 before graduating, to focus more fully on music. During this time, Badu took 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.
Influenced by R&B, 1970s soul, and 1980s hip hop, Badu became associated with the neo soul subgenre in the 1990s and 2000s along with artists such as D’Angelo and Maxwell. She has been called the Queen of Neo soul.
Badu’s career began after she opened a show for D’Angelo in 1994 in Fort Worth; record label executive Kedar Massenburg was highly impressed with her performance and signed her to Kedar Entertainment. Her first album, Baduizm, was released in February 1997. It spawned four singles: “On & On”, “Appletree”, “Next Lifetime” and “Otherside of the Game”. The album was certified triple Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Her first live album, Live, was released in November 1997 and was certified double Platinum by the RIAA.
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