An olive green crochet hat sits atop her head instead of the traditional African wrap. Her face, framed by thick dreadlocks, holds a disinterested gaze. A toothpick juts out of the corner of her mouth. Something has changed in Erykah Badu since the release of her earthy R&B masterpiece, Baduizm. In Mama’s Gun, girl got all funky–a sunnier, funkdafied creature complete with afro.
Mama’s Gun de-emphasizes the R&B that dominated Baduizm and indulges in Badu’s soul and funk influences. Badu, who produced the album, favors acoustic instruments and horn arrangements over the bass-heavy beats of her debut. Electronic help in the form of Fender Rhodes piano and mini-Moog are deftly used to achieve a casual funky ambience. At the core of Mama’s Gun are the soaring flutes and the rolling of marching band drums, reminiscent of a civil-war-era drum and fife band and Rhasaan Roland Kirk’s frenzied jazz in the ’70s. Also consistent throughout the album are the light pattering of bongos and soft Chi-Lites-like harmonizing, accompanied with bass. The result is a folky, groove-filled follow-up to the already classic Baduizm.
Badu’s lyricism at its best reflects a new sense of playful self-assurance, pride in inner beauty and respect for women. On “Cleva,” Badu declares in protest to the times: “So nowadays my figure ain’t so fly/my dress ain’t cost nothing but seven dollars/but I made it fly tell ya why.” On “Booty,” Badu declines the advances of a man, considering his girlfriend. “I don’t want him if he ain’t made no arrangement with you/ I same thing too.” At its worst, Badu doles out futile panaceas to the world’s problems, such as “Oh baby we need to smile.” But Badu’s warm delivery of those words make you forgive her for the occasional cliché.
Though songs on Mama’s Gun share common elements, each track flirts with several genres. “Green Eyes” epitomizes the complexity of the album, beginning as a saccharine parody of a swing ballad, then changing into moody cool-jazz, concluding as a mournful R&B rant. Like a good DJ, Badu effortlessly guides the listener from funk-infused songs (“Penitentiary Philosophy”) to laid-back soul (“Didn’t Cha Know”) to a reggae duet with Stephen Marley (“In Love with You”)–it’s easy like Sunday morning. Mama’s Gun has raised the bar in the often over-produced and under-thought realm of pop music.