Considered to be the “First Lady of Neo-Soul” and the “Queen of Neo-Soul,” Erykah Badu made an achievement only a select few have been able to accomplish. By combining elements from three musical genres-Soul, R&B, and Hip-Hop-she was able to create a distinctive style that was all her own. Yet, while she has been widely credited with firmly establishing the neo-soul subgenre, her real test has always been to foster a genuine connection with her listeners. “I just feel like I share what I say, and if listeners get it, they get it. And I never underestimate the audience’s ability to feel me,” admitted Badu.
Born to Kolleen and William Wright on Feb. 26, 1971 in Dallas, Texas, Erica Abi Wright-later changed to Erykah Badu-was one of three children. Her father left the family shortly after Erica’s birth, forcing Kolleen to raise the children on her own. The Wright’s situation was particularly challenging because as an actress, it was necessary for Kolleen to spend long hours at the studio in preparation for upcoming shows.
However, her mother’s vocation did afford Erykah with a wealth of invaluable onstage experience beginning when she was only four years old. By the time she turned 14, she had begun to venture out into the local music scene, recording free-style raps for a popular radio station. Following her graduation from high school, Badu went on to attend Gambling State University concentrating on music full-time before leaving the school in 1993.
Unable to secure any substantial work after GSU, Badu opted to go on tour with one of her closest cousins, Robert Bradford. While on tour, she was able to record a 19-song demo titled “Country Cousins.” The demo was all that producer Kedar Massenburg-officially credited with coining the term “neo-soul”-needed to hear before quickly signing the young talent to a deal with Universal Records.
Badu’s debut album, “Baduizm,” hit stores in the spring of 1997. The album peaked at No. 2 in the Billboard charts, and would eventually go on to be certified triple platinum. This first studio album gave her the chance to use music to voice her cultivated philosophical perspective on life and the formula for living it well.
While “The Queen of Neo-Soul” has released four more albums since “Baduizm,” her message of empowerment and acceptance has remained perhaps the largest contributor to positive reception of both her work and the neo-soul subgenre. Badu’s work has surely inspired thousands of people around the world, in addition to fellow neo-soul singers Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys.
Joshua Shapiro is a second-year student majoring in both English and education. He can be reached at JS762110@wcupa.edu.