After the Brown Sugar
-esque lounge tracks of Baduizm
but before the lengthy jam sessions of Worldwide Underground
and knotty conceptual material of New Amerykah Part One
, Erykah Badu perfected her craft on 2000’s Mama’s Gun
. Structurally, Mama’s Gun
functions a bit like a good arthouse film, a series of aesthetically luxurious long takes which are strung together, illustrating at times disparate moods and bouncing off and inflecting each other with repeat plays. Sonically, it’s Soulquarians all the way, primarily defined here by the warm grooves of J Dilla and Questlove.
For 71 minutes, Badu fashions ever more alluring means through which to express herself over this sonic background, from the disturbing prison fantasy “Penitentiary Philosophy” to the Baduizm
reinvention (and improvement) “…& On” to the brag “I’m cleva / Always on ya mind”. Each track is newly revealing of Badu’s sharpness and sense of humor, and in each she is wholly in control of the sound, her curled voice and where it might lay in the groove.
’s lyrical peak is “Booty,” where Badu brags over a spare Questlove beat that “Your booty might be bigger / But I still can pull your nigga” before pivoting to “I don't want him, cause of what he's doing to you / And you don't need him, cause he ain't ready”. An assertion of her worth however she wants it and a smirking demonstration of her black feminism, “Booty” doesn’t even have the sonic pull of Mama’s Gun
’s best tracks: it’s all brain, all Badu.
Sure, the album’s three consecutive acoustic ballads--two of them fantastic, the third a bit soppy--may be too much by any reasonable standard. Those who believe that sometimes you have to take inflexible eccentricities as contiguous with their pleasing forms, however, will accept this imbalance. After all, “In Love With You” (the soppy one) leads into the invaluable experience of “Bag Lady” and the album’s final track, “Green Eyes”. Training an impeccably charming brand of empathy on her--real" metaphorical"--bag lady ("you gon' hurt your back"), she turns on “Green Eyes” to the listener, asking us to do as she has done: to feel, for ten electrifying minutes, someone else’s pain.