Erykah Badu: June/July Cover Story [Pg 2]
BEFORE SHE WAS Erykah Badu, Erica Abi Wright was always intent on bringing forth her artistry. She dropped out of Grambling State University with her mother’s approval to pursue her music. In the mid ‘90s, with a complete independently recorded album, she crossed paths with music industry executive Kedar Massenburg. Their plan was simple: take who Badu organically was, present it to the world and hope people “got it.”
“I knew she was beautiful and her sound and tone; what she was singing about made her unique,” says Massenburg. “When I first met her she was Erykah Free, a singer and rapper. When she said she was going to wear a head wrap I said, ‘Do it.’ I wanted to bring pride back to Black women. The thing about her that I loved is that she always had a vision for herself.”
The union resulted in Badu signing to Motown Records under Massenburg’s Kedar Entertainment imprint and the release of her debut album Baduizm, which sold three million albums. While he is no longer involved in her career outside of sharing publishing rights, Massenburg still has an attachment and deep respect for Badu.
“Her, D’Angelo and Maxwell, they’ll always stick ‘cause when they came out they were respected as real artists.” Massenburg recalls the early days of her career when they were preparing to drop Baduizm. “I would say we have a deadline and Erykah would say, ‘I’m not on a timeline or deadline. I’m on a lifeline.’”
Friend and singer Bilal agrees that the way Badu works is unconventional. “She’ll chill on something for a while until it completely materializes in her head. She won’t crank out a bunch of songs for quantity sake. She takes her time.” He recalls the time they spent in the studio working on Mama’s Gun. “There would be times I’m thinking she was writing lyrics and she was drawing pictures. She works like a painter.”
“Her, D’Angelo and Maxwell, they’ll always stick ‘cause when they came out they were respected as real artists.” -- Kedar Massenburg
IT’S SNACK TIME for Mars, Badu’ 15-month-old daughter with rapper Jay Electronica. Mom scoops up the fussy toddler from the floor, places her in her lap and prepares to breast-feed.
“We all good in here,” says Badu to the on-looking reporter as she frees a breast from the cup of her bra. She doesn’t shy away or cover up. Badu has breastfed all three of her children. She also home schools them until the second grade. As for those 8-months a year she spends touring, her son Seven, 12, daughters Puma, 5 and Mars, along with members of her family-turned-staff, are right alongside her.
“Seeing Erykah as a mother, it’s amazing to me,” says Jay Electronica. “Her number one is them at all times. She’s a mother in the true sense of the word. They are safe and they feel that way because of her mothering.”
While she will reiterate that she doesn’t make any real money off her albums, she admits that it’s the income from her live shows that allows her to afford her lifestyle, a lifestyle that centers on being able to be a present mother. “I make Seven’s lunch everyday for school.”
Badu beams when she talks about her children. She also likes the fact that her eldest son attends a Black private school in her hometown. She recalls her own time as a young schoolgirl.
“I had a teacher in the 6th grade, Ms. Jackson, who Andre  was probably talking about in ‘Ms. Jackson.’ He wasn’t talking about us,” says Badu. “They called my mom up to the school to discuss my work in class. [con’t on page TK]
She showed my mom some class work that I drew on the back of. My mom didn’t get mad. She was like, ‘This is good. Have you seen this?’” Badu laughs.
Erykah’s mom, Kolleen “Queenie” Wright, remembers that parent-teacher conference vividly. “I think they thought the work was dark. As any mother you know your child. They wanted to know why or how. The lady was really shocked that I supported [Erykah].” Queenie knew her eldest child was going to be everything that she is today. “I saw early on what this person was gonna be. I saw the future. It had nothing to do with fame or fortune or money. I envisioned her as someone who wanted to live out her dream. When dealing with a gifted child, you have to get in the boat and ride with them.”
In her driveway sits four cars, the one she uses the most: a Nissan minivan with 22-inch rims. For now, she feels as though her family is complete but is open to fulfilling her wish of having seven children. “I may just keep going to offend people,” she laughs. “‘Here they come with all this noise and veggie cookies!’”