Erykah Badu ‘Mama’s Gun’ 20th Anniversary Review
In 1999, Electric Lady Studios hosted rotating sessions for Mamas Gun, Common’s uplifting breakthroughs like Water For Chocolate, and D’Angelo’s captivating magnum opus Voodoo. Electric Lady was founded by rock icon Jimi Hendrix shortly before his death in 1970, and his spirit was believed to have haunted the premises, embodied by the studio’s affectionately named house cat, Jimi. Jimi the cat was reminiscent of the actual guitarist’s perfectionism and wandered into every artist’s session. She either stayed if the music was exceptional, or fled quickly if it was below par. While this fantastical alienation was occurring, Badu felt nourished in the Soulquarians, which she mentioned in an interview with Rolling Stone’s Jancee Dunn: “This may seem strange, but as I can describe we seem to be a tribe of lost children who are reunited. Our spirits are shown through our music and we hear each other. You know, in different tribes, when the slaves were brought over, they had certain drum beats [sic] that was indigenous to every tribe and it’s almost as if the music is like that to us. “
According to the cue of her tribal descendants, Mama’s pistol was located deep between the alien funk of the 1970s and the Afrofuturism of the years to come. Almost two decades before Childish Gambino hit Awaken, My Love! Entered an outer psychedelic realm. Opener “The night I and your mom met”, Badu’s industrial rock domain of “Penitentiary Philosophy”, was far from the soft comfort of Baduizm. With a two-year-old seven on her hip, Badu chaotically whispered a mental checklist, almost forgetting about her self-care. “Penitentiary Philosophy” methodically enveloped the spirit of “Hit It And Quit It” from Funkadelic’s 1971 bizarre trip, Maggot Brain.
After the first song likely rocked the audience for the warmth of Baduizm, “Didn’t Cha Know” was an ambitious collaboration between Badu and producer J Dilla – a natural alchemist on every project he was involved in. Referred to Dilla by Common, Badu visited Dilla’s hometown of Detroit, where he advised her to choose a record from boxes of his extensive vinyl collection. Badu landed on Tarika Blue, the second and final album by the jazz band of the same name from the 1970s. They put the record on and fate had its way: The two landed on “Dreamflower” as the background for “Didn’t Cha Know”.
The picture for the song revealed that Badu’s progress was far from easy – she wanders aimlessly through the Mojave Desert before turning out to be running in circles. With a scarab beetle (representing life cycles and rebirth in ancient Egyptian religion) mimicking their travels, Didn’t Cha Know ends with Badu emerging from the emerald-colored water beneath the sand with a freshly shaved head. Badu’s elaborate head wrap was no longer there; Instead, she entered her “Sarah Bellam” phase, which was christened by Commercial Expectations.
Badu referred to the five percent nation and recognized the misinterpretation of their artistic message in the continuation of “On & On” “… & On”. She called herself a “gypsy flip-life game from the right hemisphere”. It was a cheeky answer to André, who referred her to the controversial Aquemini single “Rosa Parks” in 1998: “I met a gypsy and she got me to a game of life / to stimulate and then activate the left and right hemispheres of the brain . ”While they weren’t in the same sessions, the exchange between Badu and André was a playful joke. In a good mood, Badu channeled the thoughts about the matter on “Cleva”, a jazzy core piece with spoken word that paid homage to the revival of the black poem scene: “This is how I look without make-up / And without a bra, my ninny sagged deep / Mine Hair never hangs down on my shoulders / And it may not grow / You never know. “
Mom’s gun was a natural jam session, but Badu was still over-aware of the abuse of black men while raising a son. On February 4, 1999, Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo was falsely identified as a rape suspect and shot 41 times by four NYPD officers in the Bronx, killing him with 19 bullets. Triggered by the news, Badu grabbed her acoustic guitar and wrote “AD 2000” with the late soul singer Betty Wright. The track swelled with grief from multi-instrumentalist and producer James Poyser’s Minimoog as Badu and Wright joined forces over several generations. In 2016, a Pitchfork review of Mommy’s Gun by Daphne A. Brooks brought Badus Point home:
In contrast to Baduizm, Mama’s Gun offers a more pointed, more sustained, and informed statement of what it means to get tired through the misery of urban plague, the constant threat of police brutality and deadly violence, the baggage of poorly servicing and wading relationships and the sometimes oppressive voices in my head.
The universal origins of black femininity and her luggage were literally portrayed in “Bag Lady”, a recovery of self-esteem and the departure from the trauma of the generations. While the album version of “Bag Lady” has a slower drum riff over a sample from Soul Mann & the Brothers’ “Bumpy’s Lament” – the source material for Dr. Dre’s 2001 track “Xxplosive” – had, the music video also included the sample of a tasty, happy hip-hop pace. Every woman in the video – including Badu’s mother and sister, Nayrok Wright – wore colors symbolizing chakras, with Badu representing the root chakra to translate the misogyny of “Xxplosive” into an affirmation of progression. The women also duly portrayed characters from Ntozake Shange’s 1976 choreopoem for girls of color who have considered suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enough. Like the despised all-female characters in Shange’s dramatic elegy, Badu embodied the pain women endure when confronted with four words by men who feel choked in a relationship: “You are crowding my space.”
At the end of the video, Badu experiences a moment of joy as he weighs a then still young seven and unconsciously prepares him for the hostility he would face as a black man in America. Although 2000 was a time when André and Badu spoke similar languages to their son on separate albums, it was Mama’s weapon that was the armed Bible for blacks’ ongoing plight and self-preservation.