Erykah Badu: Mama's Gun

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Erykah Badu

Album: Mama's Gun
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Erykah Badu

Album: Mama's Gun

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From its audacious title through its final note, Erykah Badu's 1997 debut Baduizm announced the arrival of a new force in contemporary R&B. Influenced by hip-hop in attitude but leaning heavily on older traditions, the album found Badu stepping forward to fill a void with aching, earthy bohemianism and a sound that recalled rich jazz and R&B traditions of the past without crossing into Lenny Kravitz-style retro-mimicry. Three years on, Badu has returned to a music scene she helped shape, having paved the way for Macy Gray and others. But if Badu is worried about proving anything, her sophomore album Mama's Gun doesn't let it show. A little grittier and with just the right amount of added ambition, Mama's Gun picks up where Baduizm left off. Badu fiddled with the album's song sequence until the last minute—due to missed deadlines, only the face of the CD itself bears the correct running order—but the results suggest that she got it right. Beginning with the mournful and angry "Penitentiary Philosophy," Gun's songs portray the trials of a willful young woman in a world filled with hardships, unworthy lovers, and soul-stealing temptations. Finding happiness on "Orange Moon" and the Stephen Marley duet "In Love With You," Badu's voice becomes one of the sweetest instruments around. But the innate toughness is always apparent, rising to the surface on "Bag Lady" (an anti-materialism anthem) and "A.D. 2000" (an Amadou Diallo lament) and making clear the grand, spiritual themes at play in Badu's music. Factor in the deceptively simple arrangements, a lovely breakup suite ("Green Eyes"), and near-infinite replay value, and it becomes clear that it'll take at least another three years for the world to catch up with this one, too.

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