Today’s artist in our 20 Black Voices for the New Century series actually had her first number one R&B song in early 1997- “On & On” was Erykah Badu’s calling card as a new artist.

The strikingly beautiful Badu had a second R&B hit with “Tyrone” later that same year when she put out her Live disc.  Her second studio album, 2000’s Mama’s Gun topped the R&B charts and landed in the Billboard Top 10, thanks in part to the album’s lead single “Bag Lady.” A talented business woman who strives to live by her values, Badu founded a non-profit group, B.L.I.N.D. (Beautiful Love Incorporated Non-Profit Development) in 2003, and in 2005 she launched her own record label, Control FreaQ, which allows signed artists to own their own masters after 10 years.

The “First Lady of Neo-Soul” continued to enthrall fans with her own music when she put out New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) in 2008; the album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 chart and was named among Rolling Stone and The New York Times’ favorites for the year (among many other publications). A self described “mother first”, a model, a doula, a vegan, a producer and an activist, this challenging trailblazer brings a sense of strength and grace to everything she does that is unparallelled.

Read more in the series: Twenty Black Voices