May 11, 1998 12:00 PM

When she glides onstage in her traditional African head wrap and languidly lights a stick of incense, the majesty of ancient cultures is brought magnificently up to date. “Sometimes,” Erykah Badu says, “I do feel quite Queen Nefertiti-ish.”

Why not? The former Erica Wright (she changed the spelling of her first name in high school and in college adopted Badu, which means “to manifest truth and light” in Arabic) has been crowned the next big thing by music fans, who’ve bought more than 2 million copies of her jazz hip-hop debut album, Baduizm.

A vegetarian who has made many of her own clothes since grade school, Badu, 27, tends equally to the outside and the inside of her lithe 5’3″ frame. “I like to take a salt bath before I appear in public, to create my own sense of calm,” she says. “And I start and end each day with a glass of hot lemon water. It flushes out all the impurities and toxins and keeps you healthy.”

“I always told Erykah, ‘Pretty is as pretty does,’ ” says Kolleen Wright, who raised Badu and her brother and sister in Dallas. “What matters is on the inside, not what you look like or how you wear your head wrap. After that, she just naturally blossomed into the beauty that she is.”

Now at full flower, Badu, the mother of 6-month-old son Seven (whose father she declines to name), uses Queen Afua’s Rejuvenating Clay and Carol’s Daughter beauty products. “Lots of people have told me I am beautiful,” Badu says. “But the one who touched me the most was Ste-vie Wonder. He can’t even see, but he said there was some inner beauty in me that he felt.”

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