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YahZarah broke into the music industry alongside Erykah Badu, whom she sang backup for on Mama's Gun, and in turn established herself as a solo artist in a similar vein, releasing independent albums during the early 2000s. Born Dana Williams in Washington, D.C., YahZarah (whose name loosely means "Queen Mother is the brightest star" — itself a tribute to her deceased grandmother from Ghana) was greatly influenced as a child by soul greats like Tina Turner, Prince, Chaka Khan, George Clinton, and Minnie Riperton, as well as the music of the church. She went on to study music at both the Duke Ellington School of Music and North Carolina Central University, and got her break into the industry alongside Badu, who featured Williams on the Mama's Gun album and tour. Following this experience, Williams took on the YahZarah moniker and went solo, releasing the underground albums Hear Me (2001), Blackstar (2003), The Prelude (2008), and The Ballad of Purple St. James (2010), all the while sharing the stage with prominent artists (Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker), opening shows for many more (Earth, Wind & Fire, Musiq Soulchild, Floetry, Rahsaan Paterson), and frequently collaborating with Phonte Coleman and Nicolay's Foreign Exchange crew.