Erykah Badu was born Erica Abi Wright in Dallas, Texas on February 26, 1971. Her mother raised her, her brother, and her sister 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 looking after them while Erykah's mother, Kolleen Maria Gipson (Wright), performed as an actress in theatrical productions. Influenced by her mother, Erykah had her first taste of show business at the age of 4, singing and dancing with her mother at the Dallas Theatre Centre. Erykah Badu was the owner of Focal point in Dallas, Texas.
By the age of 14, Erykah was free-styling for a local radio station alongside such talent as Roy Hargrove. 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. Badu is her favorite jazz scat sound and is also an African name for the 10th born child used for the Akan people in Ghana.
Upon graduating from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Badu went on to study theater at the historically black college Grambling State University. Concentrating 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, 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.
Badu’s style is a prime illustration of Neo-Soul in that it focuses on the contemporary styles of the genres soul and hip hop and it sends out a deeper message as opposed to common R&B music. The songs in Badu’s album, “Baduizm” exemplifies her personal take on life. Her philosophy features ideologies from African influences, with fusions from the Nation of Islam and the Five Percent theologies, the complex views of the ancient Egyptians, and Southern African-American folk traditions. The majority of Badu’s music is greatly influenced by her beliefs of the NOI or the Nation of Islam and her African roots and heritage. 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 burgeoning neo soul genre. Her particular 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 of 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 Award 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 Award.
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 Award for the song in 2003.
After the release of Mama's Gun and "Love of My Life", Badu experienced 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 2003, the Worldwide Underground album 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 album. Badu also contributed to Zap Mama's album Ancestry in Progress (2004), adding her vocals to the track "Bandy Bandy."
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 2007, and the new album, titled New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), was released on February 26, 2008. According to Nielsen Soundscan, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) has sold 359,000 copies in the United States. Erykah Badu performed at the 10th annual Voodoo Experience in New Orleans the weekend before Halloween 2008.
Erykah Badu released her fifth studio album, New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) on March 30, 2010.
An "Icon" CD series of Badu was released on August 31, 2010. It features 12 of the most favorable hits from different albums of Erykah Badu.
Controversy over "Window Seat" video
On March 13, 2010, Badu filmed the video for her song "Window Seat", at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, which Badu wrote on her Twitter feed "was shot guerrilla style, no crew, 1 take, no closed set, no warning, 2 min., Downtown Dallas, then ran like hell."Without acquiring permission or permits from the city, Badu shed her clothes as she walked along a Dallas, Texas, sidewalk until she was nude at the site where President Kennedy was assassinated. A shot rang out as the song ended, and Badu's head jerked back and she fell to the ground. Children with their families could be seen nearby as Badu stripped.When asked about stripping nude in the presence of minors, Badu said, "I didn’t think about them until I saw them, and in my mind I tried to telepathically communicate my good intent to them. That’s all I could do, and I hoped they wouldn’t be traumatized." Badu also explained on The Wanda Sykes Show on April 3, 2010, that it was not her intention to insult the memory of the late President Kennedy, saying "My point was grossly misunderstood all over America. JFK is one of my heroes, one of the nation's heroes. John F. Kennedy was a revolutionary; he was not afraid to butt heads with America, and I was not afraid to show America my butt-naked truth." Coodie and Chike, directors of the Window Seat video, admitted they had bail money ready during filming if Badu was to be arrested. Badu said the video was a protest against “groupthink” and was inspired by Matt and Kim's music video Lessons Learned. Badu has also said she has "no regrets."
On Friday, April 2, 2010, Badu was charged with disorderly conduct, a class C misdemeanor, in relation to the music video. "Sgt. Warren Mitchell said Friday the decision to cite Badu for disorderly conduct — 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 Friday."On April 28, 2010, Badu challenged the disorderly conduct charge by pleading not guilty rather than paying the fee by mail. On Friday, August 13, she pleaded, deferred adjudication, meaning that the final judgment in the situation has been deferred until a later time and paid the $500 ticket.
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 is reported to have a leading role alongside Mos Def in the upcoming indie film, Bobby Zero, which tells a story of a struggling couple who hit rock bottom after Mos Def's character gives up his dream of artistic aspirations to pursue an advertising corporate job to make ends meet. 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. She was named the latest muse to fashion designer Tom Ford in 2008 as the face of his White Patchouli fragrance. Ford, also longtime friends with Badu, considered her the best choice for the campaign. “I have always considered her a true beauty … she just fits”, says Ford.
Badu splits her time between Dallas and Brooklyn, NY in her Fort Greene apartment. Badu has three children. Her eldest child is a son named Seven Sirius Benjamin, born in 1997, with André 3000. Their relationship inspired André 3000 to write the song Ms. Jackson. From 2000 to 2002, she dated rapper Common. On July 5, 2004, Badu gave birth to a daughter, Puma Sabti Curry, in her Dallas home; Puma's father is West Coast rapper The D.O.C., who is originally from Dallas, Texas. On February 1, 2009, Badu gave birth to her third child at home, a girl named Mars Merkaba Thedford, with her boyfriend of five years, rapper Jay Electronica. In attendance were her two children, Puma and Seven.
After her performance at the 2010 Soul Train Awards, pregnancy rumors spread because of her heavier appearance and her concealing attire. It was said that Badu was pregnant for a fourth time, now by the police officer that allegedly arrested her during the production of her Window Seat music video. Badu quickly dispelled the rumors via her Twitter account December 1, 2010 as she proclaimed "everyone knows I was NEVER ARRESTED for the window seat VIDEO nor put on probation.I only got A TICKET in the mail. and I am NOT PREGNANT".
Badu also remains an activist in her hometown of South Dallas. Her charity organization, Beautiful Love Incorporated Non Profit Development (B.L.I.N.D. 501c3), provides community-driven development for inner-city youth through music, dance, theater and visual arts.
In the publication VegNews Magazine, July–August 2008, Ms. Badu stated: "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".