Raw. That’s the best description of Erykah Badu’s sophomore album — the perfect evolution from her celebrated debut, Badzuizm. From attempting to ease the burden of the working woman on “Bag Lady” — Badu’s first top 10 Billboard hit, which was also nominated for two Grammys — while also celebrating the importance of self-love on “Kiss Me On My Neck,” Mama’s Gun’s key theme was liberation. In an era where love in R&B was becoming more superficial, Badu pushed for authenticity, and in the process created some of her best work. The album went platinum only months after release.
When Badu began work on Mama’s Gun at the legendary personal studio to Jimi Hendrix, Electric Lady Studios, her romantic relationship with Outkast member André Benjamin had only recently dissolved, which many believe fueled the introspective lyrics on the album. Enlisting the talents of her talented former collective, the Soulquarians, the album was also a leap forward for Badu musically.
After Badzuizm was released in 1997, Badu focused on raising the son she had with then-boyfriend Benjamin, turned in a strong performance in the movie The Cider House Rules, moved from New York back to her native Dallas, and contributed to several movie soundtracks and albums by friends such as the Roots. But writer’s block and single motherhood kept delaying her own album, and even after she finished it, she continued tinkering with the results until barely two weeks before its release. Yet Mama’s Gun shows few signs of being worried over. Produced mostly by Badu, its hard New York beats underpin smooth Southern melodies, with grooves melting seamlessly into one another. As always, she gets a strong, neo-soul sound with few instruments and uses her voice to full effect. Meanwhile, her eclectic, highly visual lyrics often remain elusive even as they call for black and feminist pride.
Mama’s Gun was listed among the year’s top 10 albums in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and the Village Voice. The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Badu, meanwhile, has continued to influence the neo-soul and R&B scene that eventually gave way to artists like Leon Bridges and Solange.
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