Erykah Badu: Through the Years

Erykah Badu, real name Erica Abi Wright, was born in Dallas. She began rapping at the age of 14 for a local radio station before deciding to change the spelling of what she called her slave name.

Badu briefly attended Grambling State University before working on a 19-song demo with her cousin, Robert “Free” Bradford. Her music then caught the attention of Universal Records exec Kedar Massenburg, who hooked Badu up with D’Angelo on a duet of the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell classic ‘Your Precious Love’ before signing her to the label.

Badu’s debut, ‘Baduizm,’ burst on the music scene, landing at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart. The triple-platinum album’s lead single, ‘On & On,’ established her as one of the neo-soul singers to watch.

Badu’s debut scored her four Soul Train Music Awards in 1998, the most trophies she received in her career from any single awards show.

Shortly after gaining worldwide fame, Badu became romantically involved with OutKast rapper Andre 3000 (legally known as Andre Lauren Benjamin). The two collaborated on several music projects. He appeared as her lover in the video for ‘Next Lifetime’; she sang on ‘Liberation,’ a song from his group’s ‘Aquemini’ album, and ‘Humble Mumble’ from its follow-up, ‘Stankonia.’

Badu reportedly named her firstborn Seven because “it’s a divine number which can’t be divided.” She gave birth on the same day, November 18, 1997, as the release of her second album, ‘Erykah Badu Live.’

In 1997, Badu became pregnant with her first child. She named her son Seven, and though she and Andre 3000 split shortly thereafter, they remain friends and raise their child between Atlanta, where Andre 3000 lives, and Dallas, where Badu lives.

Badu made her feature film debut in the comedy ‘Blues Brothers 2000.’ Plenty of music stars made cameos in the film, including Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Blues Traveler. Badu played a voodoo practitioner named Queen Mousette who hosts the battle of bands competition.

The Roots, who served as producers on Badu’s ‘Baduizm’ collaborated with the songstress on their 1998 single ‘You Got Me,’ featuring Badu and Eve. The track, co-written by Jill Scott, won a Grammy in 1999 for best rap performance by a duo or group.

Badu’s most noteworthy acting role came courtesy of the Academy Award-nominated 1999 film ‘Cider House Rules.’ In it, she starred as Rose Rose, opposite Charlize Theron, a woman who is impregnated by her father and ultimately kills him.

Where breakout albums are concerned, the eclectic ‘Mama’s Gun’ was Badu’s. The ‘Bag Lady’ singer took a few years hiatus from music to raise her son and returned in 2000 with the two-time Grammy Award-nominated disc, helmed by the Soulquarians (composed of Common, Questlove from the Roots, Bilal, Q-Tip, Mos Def, J Dilla, Talib Kweli, D’Angelo and James Poyser).

‘Mama’s Gun’ showcased the heartache Badu was suffering after the demise of her relationship with Andre 3000, most notably on a song called ‘Green Eyes.’ After releasing the album, Badu reconnected with Chicago rapper Common and the two began dating.

While ‘Mama’s Gun’ didn’t sell as many units as Badu’s previous albums, it was still lauded as an outstanding album and went platinum. The single ‘Bag Lady’ and the album were nominated for Grammys.

After touring for two years and finding herself frustrated and lacking inspiration, Badu released the 2003 LP ‘Worldwide Underground.’ Like ‘Mama’s Gun,’ the album failed to garner the commercial success of her first two records, but it went gold.

Though their relationship fizzled, Common and Badu remain friends. The two collaborated on ‘Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop),’ which was featured in the movie ‘Brown Sugar.’ The song won the performers a Grammy in 2003 for best R&B song.

‘Worldwide Underground,’ which featured production from Dead Prez and Raphael Saadiq, pulled in three Grammy nominations for ‘Danger’ and ‘Back in the Day.’ Queen Latifah, Angie Stone and Bahamadia turned up on the disc on ‘Love of My Life Worldwide.’ Lenny Kravitz also played guitar on the album, which felt like a jam session.

On July 5, 2004, Badu gave birth to her daughter, Puma, in her Dallas home. There was much speculation over who the father was. Later it was revealed to be West Coast rapper The D.O.C.

Badu appeared in David Duchovny’s directorial debut, ‘House of D,’ in 2005. She played Lady, a woman who imparts wisdom on the film’s main character, Tommy, while incarcerated in the infamous New York Women’s House of Detention.

To promote sisterhood, Badu teamed up with Academy Award nominee Queen Latifah and ‘Golden’ singer Jill Scott for the Sugar Water Festival. The three Grammy Award-winning entertainers took off on a summer jaunt in 2005 and have said they will resume the tour sometime in the future.

Badu turned up in the 2006 documentary ‘Dave Chappelle’s Block Party,’ which showcased the comedian’s New York City block party and concert. At the Brooklyn show, Badu collaborated with Talib Kweli on ‘The Blast’; her ex, Common, on ‘The Light’; The Roots and Jill Scott on ‘You Got Me’; and she also sang her hit ‘Back in the Day.’

Badu, who got her start as a rapper, took part in the 2006 VH1 Hip Hop Honors show, held at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom. She performed ‘What’s the Name of this Nation’ and ‘Planet Rock’ in tribute to Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force.

Essence magazine chose Badu to grace the cover of its April 2008 issue. A few months earlier, Badu released her fourth studio album, ‘New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)’ album.

Badu started a charity called ‘Beautiful Love Incorporated Nonprofit Development (B.L.I.N.D.) in her hometown of Dallas. The nonprofit seeks to guide young people who demonstrate artistic talent.

Badu is a vegan and has been known to say, “Vegan food is soul food in its purest form.” Her kids are also being raised as vegans.

“I’m in the business of telling the truth-my truth,” Badu told Interview magazine. “I don’t think they see the balance, but they will. I’m a Pisces, so I’m a very closed-book kind of person. But it opens itself as time goes on. I’m a leader, I’m an artist, I’m an innovator, I’m a mother, I’m weak, and I’m strong, so all those things will be revealed.”

Badu gave birth to her third child,a girl she named Mars Merkaba, on Feb. 1, 2009. As she did with her first daughter, Puma, Badu chose to give birth to Mars at her home. She is currently still in a relationship with Mars’ father, rapper-producer Jay Electronica.

“I think Erykah is one of the few artists that truly does have a movement,” Sylvia Rhone, the president of Universal Motown, recently told The New York Times. “Her music has changed, but she’s been feeding people this creative change all these years, and she’s stayed very connected with her fan base.”

It was only a matter of time before someone snatched up the brown-eyed beauty for an ad campaign. In 2008, Tom Ford hand-selected Badu as the face for his White Patchouli Fragrance. This marked Badu’s first major endorsement.

Months after giving birth to her second daughter, Mars, Badu began performing at shows across the country to try out new material. Here she is at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles in 2009.

Badu covered Chaka Khan’s ‘Stay’ on her 1997 ‘Live’ album and finally performed it in tribute to the legendary vocalist in 2009. She sang the up-tempo track at the 2009 Soul Train Awards, held at the World Congress Center in Atlanta.

Badu is active on the social networking platform Twitter. Of it,s he told New York magazine: “It’s as if you’ve met angels that you can’t see or touch, but there’s a plethora of information and love and energy that you get from these things. I guess that’s what they mean when they talk about the Age of Aquarius, the Age of Technology. We’re witnessing evolution right now. Hey, I am an analog girl. I can function very well in a digital world.”

As of late, Badu has been rocking a head full of cornrows to promote her fifth studio album, ‘New Amerykah Part 2 (Return of the Ankh).’ The album, which dropped on March 30, features the single ‘Window Seat.’ She recently made headlines for stripping nude in the video for the track, which was shot guerilla-style in downtown Dallas.

×