Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Back in RhythmicRotation: Erykah Badu - Mama's Gun

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This past weekend I decided to enjoy a drink and one of my favorite albums of all time, Erykah Badu's Mamas Gun. I've been an Erykah fan since I first heard the vintage bass of "On and On" bumping through the speakers of my mom's old entertainment set, and from that point on I was HOOKED. When I sat down and treated myself to the genius that was the entire Baduizm album, I thought that there was no way it could get any better. I was proven wrong 3 years later when Erykah dropped Mamas Gun to the masses in the fall of 2000.

Mama's Gun is probably one of the most creative, inspirational, amazing, and daring albums of the past decade, all without coming off as pretentious, trite and forced...which is a very hard thing to do when it comes to making an album that connects to listeners on all levels, those seeking lyrical satisfaction, to those seeking musical pleasure, and the few who are still yearning for substance and meaning all at the same time.

With contributions from James Poyser and the late J. Dilla, Mamas Gun was crafted to become one of the most organic and innovative works of that time, which is funny considering that Badu herself was perceived as anything BUT during this time. No longer being looked at as the deep soul siren, she was discovered as being some what a fraud with foax dreads and a background that was a far cry from the Philly movement that began to take place at the time, or at least began to come to prominence, she was a bit farther down south...try Texas. With all of the mumbo jumbo aside, the material spoke for itself, it spoke for Erykah and testified exactly how genius this woman was, regardless of how high her headwraps were and how many fist she threw in the air.

Much more eclectic and experimental than its predecessor Baduizm, this album explored different sounds to accommodate the different lyrical content that Erykah allowed her pen to venture in. From the typical relationship ups and downs, to the new territory of self-esteem and injustice within the African American community, when it came to the authorities, Mama's Gun cohesively and effectively takes you on a journey. I've always appreciated this album much more than Baduizm for the simple fact that its an album that's not forced to be anything but what it is. It would have been easy coming off her her multiple Grammy wins, for the Baduizm album, with something exactly the same, that consisted of soulful retro sounds and head nodding grooves. Instead of keeping the same formula, or breaking it completely, she added to the already rich and refreshing sound. If it ain't broke, why not make it make it better? From the first sounds of the rock influenced "Penitentiary Philosophy" to the jazzy album version of "Bag Lady" (which I prefer to the single version btw) this album effortlessly glided across genres and melodic moods, yet keeping you in the same mind frame to appreciate each track equally.

All of the material on the album arguably leads up to the dramatic and emotionally touching conclusion of the album, its pinnacle, the masterpiece "Green Eyes." The near 10 minute track is split into 3 sections, the first "Movement 1 (denial)," being more of a vintage sound with piano work from James Poyser, it has Erykah sounding as if she were a blues singer from the era when Ella and Billie reigned supreme. In the second part of the song, "acceptance," the song gets more of a heavier jazz backing and develops a stronger thump thanks to the brilliance that is ?uestlove on the drums. The third and final section of the song features Erykah at her most vulnerable and collected, after laying everything bare in the "acceptance" portion of the song, it shows the conflicting thoughts of someone going through a tumultuous relationship perfectly. The piano workings of James Poyser and hypnotic horns leaves you wondering why there aren't more albums like this one.

This album was rare, being a sophomore effort that showed the epitome of growth on every front from the artist (something that's unseen now a days). Everyone knows my feelings on Erykah's Latest effort and I feel the way I do so strongly because I know what shes done, and what shes capable of doing. This is arguably one of the BEST albums of the past decade, and if I have to wait until 2010 for Erykah to rise back onto her mix of retro soul and funk thrown, than so be it. Settling for anything else from a woman that's displayed perfection would be less than civalized.


QH said...

It is nice when your artist hits the mark when you know they can? I can't wait to experience this record.-QH

S. Flemming said...

Very nice. My 'Baduizm' experience was a memorable one too (she had me at "Appletree" LOL); I still remember popping that open my senior year in high school and then seeing her live that summer before I started college. (Lord, my ass is getting old.) I remember how eager I was to hear the 'Mama's Gun' record after that and I ended up hating it at the time, ha ha. After a second listen though, I really did love it. It's one of those that will be issued in deluxe edition formats and all of that in another ten years. My favorite cut: 'Orange Moon'. Reminds me of an old flame ...