“Mama’s Gun,” Erykah Badu’s second studio album turned 20 years old on Halloween.
The album was recorded at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland Studios in Greenwich Village, Manhattan in 1999-2000, and what a dream team she had with her. The album’s musicians include Questlove and James Poyser of The Roots, Roy Ayers, Betty Wright and the late J Dilla. Plus her Dallas homies Shaun Martin, N’dambi, Geno Young and the late Roy Hargrove.
Badu was already a star by then with the success of her first album, “Baduizm,” and the now-classic live recording of “Tyrone.” The album didn’t sell as many copies as “Baduizm,” but it gave us “Bag Lady,” with its memorable video, and Badu’s first Billboard top-10 hit.
She won the Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance Female for “On & On,” and “Baduizm” won for Best R&B Album, in 1998. There was no sophomore curse with “Mama’s Gun.”
It 100% slaps, from the whispery intro and fuzzy guitar riffs of “Penitentiary Philosophy,” straight through to “Green Eyes,” the Billie Holiday-invoking charmer that finishes it. “Cleva” has you feeling cute by the second verse, and from there you’re one of the girls, rocking in Badu land. Later, Stephen Marley sings to acoustic guitar that he’s “In Love with You.” It literally has everything, including a quasi protest song. “A.D. 2000” is about the death of African immigrant Amadou Diallo at the hands of New York City police in 1999.
In January 2001, Rolling Stone couldn’t resist reviewing “Mama’s Gun” in the context of Andre 3000, Badu’s baby daddy, who released the Outkast album “Stankonia” with Big Boi two weeks before “Mama’s Gun” dropped.
That Outkast album sold 3.79 million copies in its first six months. It also won two Grammy awards, including one for “Miss Jackson,” the song that speaks to Badu’s T-Jones. What can we say? The woman has powers. But “Mama’s Gun” stands on its own as an icon of neo-soul, and just as worthy of all those accolades.