Along with D'Angelo and Mary J. Blige, singer Erykah Badu championed the hip-hop/soul movement of the '90s. Her smooth voice, trademark head wrap, and majestic demeanor manifest sentiments of black pride, self-love, and female liberation. Badu's collaborations with the Roots, as well as with jazz bassist Ron Carter, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, and funk vibraphonist Roy Ayers, signify her strong ties to the new and old schools of black music.
The daughter of professional actress Kolleen Wright, Badu began playing piano around the age of seven. She graduated from Dallas' Booker T. Washington High School, an arts-oriented magnet school, and studied theater at Grambling State University in Louisiana. After performing locally and cutting a demo with her cousin, Badu opened a concert for D'Angelo and impressed D'Angelo manager Kedar Mass nburg. Massenburg soon signed Badu to a solo deal for Universal and began transforming her demo into Baduizm (#2 pop, #1 R&B), which yielded the hits "On & On" (#12 pop, #1 R&B, 1997) and "Next Lifetime" (#61 pop, #1 R&B, 1997). An album that many critics would argue saved R&B music from complete dilution, Baduizm's integration of jazzy instrumentation, hip-hop beats, and soaring vocals quickly solidified Badu as torchbearer for soul music and won her two Grammys: Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Album. Badu's next album, November 1997's Live (#4 pop, #1 R&B), brought her acclaimed live performances to the masses and yielded "Tyrone" (#62 pop, #1 R&B, 1997), an anthem about a woman's scorn for an oft-apathetic boyfriend.
In 1999 Badu plied her acting skills, appearing in The Cider House Rules, which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. She also recorded a couple of successful songs with her Roots counterparts: the Grammy Award–winning "You Got Me" (#39 pop, #11 R&B, 1999) and "Southern Girl" (#76 pop, #24 R&B, 1999) with human beat-box Rahzel. For her next album, Mama's Gun (#11 pop, #3 R&B), a soulful journey into the genres of rock and reggae, Badu enlisted Roots drummer Ahmir-Khalib "?uestlove" Thompson for several tracks. The album yielded another hit, "Bag Lady" (#6 pop, #1 R&B, 2000).
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies