Mama's Gun asserts Badu's versatility and talent
By TOM OGORZALEK
Scene Music Critic
Erykah Badu has made a name for herself with her smooth vocal intonations, both in her own work and as a guest artist on other groups' albums.
In associating herself with Outkast and the Roots, among others, she has found a place for herself on the cutting edge of hip-hop, a group of artists creating a new sound in the midst of a constantly changing form.
In her newest solo endeavour, Mama's Gun, Badu asserts her own versatility; she moves seamlessly from voice to voice and persona to persona to reveal the complexity of the individual — she is an artist, a woman, an African American, a mother and a lover. She is defiant, vulnerable, loving and wise. And the result is a very special musical experience.
In a quick survey of the album, it becomes immediately apparent that Badu has a tremendous interest in using different forms of musical expression. The dreadlocked siren moves from the funk of "Penitentiary Philosophy" swiftly into the smooth Jamaican-tinged rhythms of "Didn't Cha Know," in which her voice loses its angry, boisterous quality and takes on a more subdued cuteness, inviting embrace.
At times she speaks, at times she sings, at times a growl emanates from betwixt her lips. "… & On" is a venture into self-conscious and political rap, while Stephen Marley collaborates on the straightforward duet "In Love With You." Her most distinctive sound comes on the final track, "Green Eyes," in which Badu coyly denies romantic jealousy in a marvelously constructed tune reminiscent of Etta Fitzgerald (Roy Hargrove contributes a muted trumpet to add to the nuanced jazz feel).
All of Badu's styles play off each other and underline the multifaceted philosophy of the album itself. She describes herself as a warrior, one who has learned from life. In this effort she manages to reveal some of that growth and wisdom to the listener, if one chooses to hear. She is overtly sexual, flaunting her attractiveness to women and men alike. At the same time Badu cautions women not to hang on to too much baggage, to pack light, for carrying too much can destroy them. She speaks alternatively of solidarity and competition. She affirms both her independence from men and her resilient cleverness while revealing insecurities about romance and love that are common to all of humanity.
Time and memory are recurrent themes in the work, as she admonishes those who would waste their fleeting time here, and cautions those who would dwell on the past. At the same time, Badu reminds us of the importance of growth from experience and upon reflection of old memories. In one particularly poignant line she refers to her first menstruation as the moment she learned she was inferior, yet the album clearly reveals a woman who has grown to embrace her femininity in all of its complexity.
Badu is strong and compassionate, sexual and loving. In her music she attempts the ambitious project of expressing a vast array of human emotions and ideas in a single hour.
By revealing her own versatility, she also reveals the diversity of that human experience.
The back of the album poses the question, "WHATS YO IZM?" Badu has chosen Baduizm, drawn from the title of her earlier album, and it is a philosophy of eclectic and diverse voice, as harsh and smooth as her own vocals.
To hear many -isms come together to create harmony of thought, tune in to WSND-FM's Blues Experiment Thursday nights from 10 to 12 p.m.
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, December 5, 2000