Erykah Badu Mama's Gun

With Mama's Gun, Erykah Badu has clearly transcended the coy understated subtlety that informed her Baduizm debut. As well as stretching out her distinctive voice, Badu negotiates a wider range of music and moods with the help of Soulquarian collective members like James Poyser, Jay Dee (of Slum Village) and ?uestlove (of the Roots), and the "clean up woman" Betty Wright. There's a significantly introspective slant here, highlighted on "... & On," a sequel of sorts to her breakthrough single "On & On." Badu seemingly critiques herself for the lessons she tried to dispense on the song, singing "What good do your words do/If they can't understand you/Don't go talking that shit Badu." Badu seems intent on proving she's regular, as if to shoot down the impenetrable "Earth mama" vibe that came with her appearance on the scene. She highlights her imperfections on "Cleva," which notably features the incomparable Roy Ayers on vibes, and her vulnerability on "Green Eyes," a three-part suite reputedly about her break-up with Outkast's Andre. Providing balance are tracks like the single "Bag Lady," which gains more agency from its female self-assertive theme by flipping the misogynistic lyrics that originally accompanied the same beat on Dr. Dre's 2001. The album version is slower than the single and the sedate pace is indicative of Mama's Gun as a whole. While not as immediate as Baduizm, Badu's expansion as a songwriter and a performer is readily evident and its more intimate tone adds intriguing depth to her persona. (Universal)