Erykah Badu’s exceptional debut disc, Baduizm, was the CD hip-hop heads played when they needed a break from music that was filled with materialism and macho posturing, or when they just needed that certain…groove. The CD came off like a well-executed hip-hop record; she kept it real, she proved her point, but did it through song rather than rap.
She built upon this winning formula with Live, her follow-up concert CD, proving that she was more than “some afro-centric chick with incense and head wraps”, but a powerful, serious performer with an obvious respect for the craft and an incredible vocal range. In a phrase, she was a force to be reckoned with.
Badu continues to grow with Mama’s Gun, her third release. It is a journey into a deep and tender part of Erykah’s soul; a place most would keep heavily guarded. From the opening whispers that are supposed to be the voices in her head, the listener is made to feel as if they stumbled onto the open diary of a woman who has poured her soul into the pages. At first, you feel bad for invading her privacy, but then you are drawn in and you can’t turn away.
The first single released was “Bag Lady”. This heavily anticipated song received such heavy radio play before it even hit the streets, it debuted at #1 on Billboard‘s R&B charts and stayed for several weeks. Using a clever play on words, it imparts a tale of someone dealing with tons of emotional baggage, the negative results of holding on (“Bag Lady / You gon’ hurt your back / Dragging all them bags like that / I guess nobody ever told you / All you must hold on to / Is you”), and the optimism of letting go (“Bag Lady / Let it go / Girl you don’t need it / Betcha love can make it better”). Judging by the overwhelming response the single garnered, “Bag Lady” has therapeutic as well as entertainment benefits.
The track “...& On” picks up where her debut single “On & On” (from Baduizm) left off, this time adding astrological references and childhood experiences to the Muslim/5% Nation vibe. She also addresses the fact that some may not fully comprehend her messages in the song’s hook (“What good do your words do / If they can’t understand you / Don’t keep talkin’ that shit / Badu”). Other standout tracks include “Cleva, In Love With You” (a duet with Stephen Marley), “Didn’t Cha Know”, and “Times a Wastin’”. Guests on the disc include Betty Wright (A.D. 2000), Roy Ayers (Cleva), Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson (drummer for The Roots) and James Poyser (associate producer of Mama’s Gun).
The CD concludes with the brilliant, heart-wrenching, three-part “Green Eyes” (featuring Roy Hargrove on trumpet), which was reportedly written just after the break-up of Badu and Andre 3000 (of Outkast), the father of her son Seven. At just over 10 minutes, the track is a moody, jazzy trip through the potpourri of emotions one goes through when faced with sudden unrequited love. From the opening lines of the “Denial” movement (“My eyes are green / ‘Cuz I eat a lot of vegetables / It don’t have nothing to do with your new friend”), to the admission of hurt in the “Acceptance?” movement (“Feeling insecure / Love has got me sore / I don’t want no more”), and ending with the raw honesty of “The Relapse” movement (“Don’t you want me? What’s wrong with me / You told me we had a family / Wanna run to mama when you’re down and low / Boy times get tough and there you go”), the listener can visualize the tears streaming down her cheeks as her voice cracks on the songs closing notes.
Although there are no songs that require use of the fast-forward button, some listeners may be put off by the cuts that are steeped in Egyptology and other spiritual references (“Kiss Me On My Neck”, “A.D. 2000”, “Orange Moon”). If this is you, my advice is to enjoy the beautiful music and the sweetness of Erykah’s voice. If you do have the required knowledge to decipher the lyrics to these cuts, well, good for you. You will undoubtedly enjoy them even more. Additionally disappointing is the absence of the Cheeba Sac Mix of Bag Lady, as well as the missing track Props To The Lonely People. Those minor problems aside, Mama’s Gun is a definite work of art, destined to remain in heavy rotation for some time to come.