When I think of a woman who is inspiring not only to other artists, but to original thinkers… a woman who is a “one-in-a-million” type person and basically just really fucking cool… I think of Miss Erykah Badu. She didn’t demand respect or gain it over decades of being in the music business, she always had it… she OOZED IT. At a young age, Erykah changed her name from Erica Abi Wright to Erykah Badu due to her belief that her original name was a “slave name”. Erykah started at the age of 4 – acting, singing, rapping and dancing alongside her mother at the Dallas Theatre Centre. She majored in Theatre at college and then left to pursue her music career. She was eventually signed to Universal Records. After a first wildly successful album in 1997, and another called “Mamas Gun” in 2000, she soon became classified by music writers as “The Queen of Neo Soul.” She has voiced many times that she is not happy with being labelled as one specific genre, which she far surpassed after her last album in two parts: Part One in 2008, and Part Two in 2010. On both parts of this album you will hear an insane mixture of musical genres and inspirations. Over those early years during the late 90s to the 2000s, her success grew international, winning her dozens of awards and honors throughout her career. She also continues to have a very successful acting career to date, having appeared on TV and film since 1997.
I recall as a younger girl going through my sisters CD collection and finding Erykah Badu. She looked intimidating, beautiful, insanely cool… like someone who seemed strong in every sense of the word. Her look was separated from anything I had seen or thought a woman should look/dress like, and that alone was so important. I distinctly remember watching the music video “You Got Me” by The Roots, which featured Erykah Badu, and getting chills when she sang; noticing that her presence – even with a legendary group like the Roots – made her the essence of that song/music video.
In the dozens of interviews I have read about Erykah Badu, many people are quoted as saying that when you meet her, you instantly fall in love with her. I am inspired most by women who, despite the pressures around them, can continue to stay whole-heartedly themselves as artists AND as individuals, and Erykah Badu is the epitome of this. Her style, her music and her way of thinking and speaking are all so inspiring.
Erykah speaks out both publicly and in her music about African American and human rights and female empowerment. She started her own Charity Organization in her hometown of Dallas Texas called “Beautiful Love Incorporated Non Profit Development.” Her aim was to have a place that provided a community for the development of youth through dance, art, music and theatre. She has been a vegan for over 20 years and has three children with kickass names; Puma, Seven, and Mars. She currently divides her time living in both Dallas Texas and Brooklyn New York. I encourage all who haven’t yet to experience the originality that is Miss Erykah Badu. I can guarantee you will be inspired.
Grace Thompson is an actor and playwright living in Toronto, ON. Her play My Nightmares Wear White will be featured in The Muddy Mary Project’s debut series this fall: Women Past, Present & Fictional.