In the early 90s, Badu’s ambition was to be a rapper known as ‘MC Apples.’ She was one-half of a rap group called Erykah Free with her cousin. At 14 she tried her hand at freestyle-rapping for local Dallas radio station, KNON. “We were even better than a lot of the guy groups” she once told Rolling Stone. “Shoot I’m always going to be a freestyle fool. Rap is like the jazz of Billie Holiday’s day.”
Erykah’s mother Kolleen Maria Wright acted in local stage productions as a means to support her family. Badu began performing professionally beside her mother at the age of 4. Her sister Nayrok is one of her backup singer. Badu starred opposite Charlize Theron in 1999’s The Cider House Rules.
Back in her emcee days Badu opened up a Dallas show for Notorious B.I.G in 1994 where she performed the song “On and On” for the first time. She would go on to open for rap acts like A Tribe Called Quest, Mobb Deep and the Wu-Tang Clan.
Badu is a former spokesperson for the International Center for Traditional Childbearing. In addition to being a doula, “I’m an herbalist, I grow my own herbs. I’m a sound therapist, which I do onstage. I do iridology, reiki, color therapy, chakra balancing, energy cleanings and pendulum readings,” she told ESSENCE in her August 2015 cover story.
The no-good-man anthem was completely freestyled! Erykah and her band began playng music during a soundcheck and she borrowed tales from her aunts “…who were always telling some man about himself,” she recalled. “I recorded it live in D.C and next thing I know I heard it live on the radio,” she said. Talk about authentic.
Talk about brains and beauty. Badu attended Grambling University, a historically Black college, where she majored in theatre and minored in Quantum Physics. She left college to follow her dreams of being a singer.
In 2014, Badu had her DNA tested and her lineage was traced to the West African country of Cameroon. She has since stayed close to the Cameroonian community in Texas. “I talk to them often. They told me that [my lineage] of Cameroonians traveled from Egypt down to Mali, and then down to the huge grass field of Cameroon,” she told ESSENCE in her August 2015 cover story.
“I’m a part of a people called Bamileke, which means “grass field.” They couldn’t trace me to a particular tribe, but they know I’m from the grass field.”
As brave as she appears to the rest of us, the Grammy winner says she was ‘petrified’ while filming the video for her controversial “Window Seat” video in which she disrobes in downtown Dallas. But it wasn’t for the reasons you may think. Badu was worried about her body being negatively critiqued. “I was holding in my stomach so tight, I wasn’t even singing,” she said. “With each walk I tightened my calf…It’s amazing what you think about. I wasn’t thinking about getting arrested or the police or nothing!”
In 2005, Erykah Badu launched her own label Control FreaQ with the goal of freeing “the slaves and the slave masters” by allowing signed artists to own their own masters in a 10-year conversion deal. Her first big project was developing hip hop artist Jay Electronica.