BEYOND THE ARTIST: The Queen of Soul

Erykah Badu was born on the 26th of February 1971 in Texas. She grew up raised by women, with her mother, godmother and two grandmothers. Her passion for art began watching her mother and grandmother act in theatre.

Starting at a young age Erykah Badu grew up fascinated with dance and soul music. She started by playing the piano and involving herself more with music. She moved on to rapping at only 14 years of age in a local radio station.

As she began to establish herself artistically and studying, Erykah decided to change the spelling of her name. She changed it to Badu to shed her “slave name”. Badu created her identity surrounding meanings of inner light in Egyptian.

In 1989, Badu started working alongside her cousin while studying in Grambling University. He would send her backing tracks and she would write raps and melodies over these. She started singing more, and decided to drop out and the two became the duo ‘Erykah Free’.

Consequently, they would go on together in the hopes of a singing career, meanwhile Badu also worked as a waitress and drama teacher. In 1995, Badu was discovered by Kedar Massenburg while opening as Erykah Free for the singer D’Angelo. Whom she ended up signing with solo for Kedar Entertainment.

In January 1997, Erykah released her first song ‘On & On’ becoming an instant hit. She followed this with her debut album ‘Baduizm’ quickly transforming neo soul. She reached numbers as high as almost 200 million on Spotify in 2024.

‘On & On’ became the first neo-soul song to top Billboard’s RnB chart. Consequently, in the next month her album would then become number 2 on the Pop Album charts.

‘On & On’ ended up becoming a award winning song, receiving a Grammy in 1998 for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.

The genre ‘Neo-Soul’ is recognised as a mixture of contemporary RnB and soul rising in popularity in the 1990s.

Erykah Badu was immediately established as a Neo-Soul artist by her label, one of the only four at the time. This led her to following this route with her music.

After her first acclaimed release, Erykah Badu maintained her popularity and standard of music. She received more awards for her following releases and proving herself more deserving of the title Queen of Soul.

At now 53-years-old, Badu has three children and has built her career beyond music. She has pursed acting with movies such as House of D (2004), a certified Doula, and holistic health practitioner. She is also a third degree Reiki master.

Badu was seemingly able to pursue the ‘inner peace’ she connected with growing up.

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Written by: Ana Goncalves