Mama's Gun

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For the British band, see Mamas Gun.
Mama's Gun
Erykah Badu - Mama's Gun.jpg
Studio album by Erykah Badu
Released November 21, 2000
Recorded 1999–2000
Electric Lady Studios
(New York, New York)
Genre Neo soul[1]
Length 71:50
Label Motown/Puppy Love
Producer Erykah Badu (exec.), Kedar Massenburg (exec.), James Poyser (co-exec.), Questlove, J Dilla, Snook Young, Shawn Martin, Kerry "Krucial" Brothers, Karma Productions
Erykah Badu chronology
Mama's Gun
Worldwide Underground
Singles from Mama's Gun
  1. "Bag Lady"
    Released: September 12, 2000
  2. "Didn't Cha Know?"
    Released: March 2001
  3. "Cleva"
    Released: 2001

Mama's Gun is the second studio album by American recording artist Erykah Badu, released November 21, 2000, on Motown Records. Recording sessions for the album took place from 1999 to 2000 at Electric Lady Studios in New York City. A neo soul album, Mama's Gun incorporates funk, soul, and jazz styles.[2] It has confessional lyrics by Badu, which cover themes of insecurity, social issues and personal relationships.[3] The album has been viewed by critics as a female companion to neo soul artist D'Angelo's second album Voodoo (2000), which features a similar musical style and direction.[4][5][6]

The album contains the single "Bag Lady", a top 10 Billboard hit, nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and for Best R&B Song. The song "Didn't Cha Know?" was also nominated for Best R&B Song. The album features substantial contributions from several members of the Soulquarians outfit, of which Badu was a member. It also features guests such as soul singer Betty Wright and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Mama's Gun was met with great critical success and sold strongly, reaching Platinum two months after its release. Thematically the album explores topics regarding self-esteem, relationship breakdowns, and police brutality, and features a more eclectic sound than its predecessor. Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the Top 10 Albums of 2000.


Following Badu signing to Universal Records, she realised her debut studio album Baduizm, in early 1997. The album was met with critical and commercial success, debuting at number two on the Billboard charts and number one on the US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.[7][8] Baduizm‍ '​s commercial and critical success helped establish Badu as one of the emerging neo soul genre's leading artists.[9] Her particular style of singing drew many comparisons to Billie Holiday.[10] Baduizm was certified three times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, Gold by the British Phonographic Industry and the Canadian Recording Industry Association. [11] [12] [13] Badu recorded her first live album, while pregnant with Seven, and the release of the recording coincided with his birth.[14]


The album was recorded at the Electric Lady Studios.

After the success of Baduizm and, Live, Badu took a short break to tend to her role as a mother to her newborn child, Seven, whom she had with her partner at the time, André Benjamin. She returned to collaborating with Questlove of The Roots. The frequency of their collaborations led to her becoming a member of the Soulquarians - a collective formed of like-minded musicians, singers and rappers including Questlove, D'Angelo, Jay Dee, and Common (with whom she had previously worked in 1997). Unfortunately, by the time the songs for her follow up album had begun to materialize, her spousal relationship with Benjamin had already broken down. Badu used the experience as inspiration for several of the songs that she would write, most notably "Green Eyes". Another event, the murder of Amadou Diallo by New York City Police, serves as the basis for the song "A.D. 2000". Critics have noted that while Baduizm contained its share of cryptic lyricism, Mama's Gun is much more direct in its approach, and places the artist in a subjective position more than its predecessor.[15]

As with other Soulquarian collaborations, the majority of the album was recorded at Electric Lady, Jimi Hendrix's personal recording studio, which was also used to create several landmark albums by David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, and John Lennon. The sessions were informal, and took place simultaneously with D'Angelo's Voodoo and Common's Like Water for Chocolate, resulting in impromptu collaborations and a distinctive sound that can be found among the three albums. Renowned recording engineer, Russell Elevado, who was responsible for the mixing of all three albums, has stated that he used older techniques and vintage mixing gear in order to achieve the warmth found in older recordings. While most current recording techniques involve the use of hi-tech digital equipment, Elevado employed the use of analog equipment including vintage microphones and recording to tape.


The album opens with the explosive, psychedelic, guitar-led "Penitentiary Philosophy", which features a sample of Stevie Wonder's "Ordinary Pain", heavy drumming from Questlove, and guitar by Jef Lee Johnson. The song is an expression of what Badu sees as a state of mental imprisonment. She urges disillusionment and liberation from false beliefs: "Here's my philosophy/Livin' in a penitentiary/Brothers all on the corner/Tryin' to make believe/Turn around ain't got no pot to pee". The song features a twice-repeated breakdown section where she almost whispers her lyrics, as the music slowly builds up and launches back into the main groove. The following song, the spiritual "Didn't Cha Know", features ethnic-sounding percussion, wah-wahs, and emotive strings. The song was produced by Jay Dee with contributions from James Poyser. Jay Dee had been working with Common on his album but was yet to meet Badu, so the rapper arranged for the two to meet. She relates the song's creation:

I went to Detroit to work with this cat that I heard a few tracks from that drove me crazy. Common took me over there, we went down to the basement, Common left and Dilla [Jay Dee] and I sat and talked. He had records wall to wall like it was a public library and he goes, “OK, I want you to look for a record.” I’m looking through these organized, tightly packed crates, and I just pulled out one record and the artist was Tarika Blue. I liked that name. I put on the first track [“Dreamflower”] and I fell in love with the song and I kept playing it over and over again and I said, “I want this.” He showed me how to loop a small part of the bassline, he was very generous in teaching you and letting you be hands on. Then I left the room and when I came back he had looped some drums to a small sample of the song and I started to write to it. I came up with the "Ooooh, heeeey" melody. I wrote for a few days and then the song came to be. I’d hike down to his house in mittens and a scarf. I just kind of stayed down there and worked until we got the things the way that I liked.[16]

It was the second single and garnered some unwanted attention when the source of its sample, jazz fusion band Tarika Blue, filed a suit seeking compensation for its release as thus. The case was settled out of court. The song "...& On" is a continuation of her 1997 hit "On & On" and, like that song, sees Badu waxing cryptically yet again, although she conscientiously teases her own mystic image when she sings "What good do your words do if they can't understand you? Don't go talkin' that shit, Badu". After this song, the album jumps into "Cleva", which begins with the line "this is how I look without make-up". Badu uses the song to challenge accepted standards of female values when she asks "She's cleva and I really wanna grow, but why come you're the last to know?". The issue of self-esteem is further explored on two other songs; the funk-jam "Booty", and the jazzy album version of "Bag Lady". On the latter, Badu uses the titular "bag lady" as a metaphor for a woman who carries emotional baggage over from her previous relationships and is unable to let anyone get close to her. She stresses the importance of obtaining closure when she sings: "Bag lady, you gon' hurt your back/Draggin' all them bags like that/I guess nobody ever told you/All you must hold on to is you". The controversial 1999 shooting of Guinea immigrant Amadou Diallo by the NYPD's Street Crimes Unit served as the basis for "A.D. 2000" (the abbreviation standing for Diallo's initials). Rather than singing a condemnation of the NYPD, as had most other artists who were incensed by the event, Badu chose to sing an elegy which, while noting the tragedy of Diallo's killing, also observes the furor over the circumstances, which she viewed as likely to be temporary: "No you won't be name'n no buildings after me/To go down dilapidated ooh/No you won't be name'n no buildings after me/My name will be misstated, surely". The song recalls other symbolic protest songs such as "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday, an artist with whom Badu has received some favorable comparisons. Mama's Gun contains two back-to-back love songs; the dreamy, astronomical ballad "Orange Moon", and the acoustic, reggae-tinged "In Love With You" - a duet between Badu and Stephen Marley.

The last song, and arguable centerpiece of the album, "Green Eyes", is a sprawling, three-part epic exploring the contradicting emotions of a woman trying to cope with a breakup. The first part, titled "Movement 1 (denial)", features piano by James Poyser, trumpets by Roy Hargrove, and sounds akin to the effect of being heard through a 1930s gramophone record player. It sees Badu singing in a soft bluesy baritone comparable to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. In this section of the song, Badu denies feeling hurt when she finds out that her former lover has a new partner. She sings: "My eyes are green/Cause I eat a lot of vegetables/It don't have nothing to do with your new friend". The second movement, dubbed "acceptance", features bass guitar, flutes, and piano and is a lot jazzier, featuring brush-stroke drums by Questlove. In this section she sings: "I can't remember the last time I felt this way about somebody/You've done something to my mind/And I can't control it/But I don't love you any more/Yes I do, I think/Loving you is wrong". In the third section, she finally succumbs to her emotions and reveals at once, feelings of regret, abandonment, and unfulfilled promises, as well as a yearning to rekindle an affair which almost certainly consumed her, and which she has yet to move on from: "Don't you want be strong with me?/You told me we could have a family/Want to run to me when you're down and low/But times get tough and there you go/Out the door, you wanna run again/Open your arms and you'll come back in/Wanna run cause you say you're afraid". Because of her highly publicized involvement with André Benjamin, many assumed that she was referring to their break-up in the song and also on her song "Tyrone", however both parties have stated that there is no animosity between them and that they are on good terms, and speak regularly (it is worth noting that "Tyrone" was recorded in 1997, while the pair were still an item). Benjamin responded to the rumors in the song "A Life in the Day of Benjamin André (Incomplete)", from the 2003 Outkast album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

Commercial performance[edit]

The lead single from Mama's Gun was the "Cheeba Sac" mix of "Bag Lady", which, with its colorful, artsy music video, shot to #1 on the R&B charts, and also into the Top 10 on the billboard charts. This remix of the song contained a sample from the Dr. Dre song "Xxplosive". The popularity of the song landed the album at #11 in the national charts when it was released four months later in October, 2000. This was a noticeable drop from Baduizm's peak chart position of #2, although the album sold strongly and had reached Platinum by late December the same year. Despite this, there were only two more singles released from the album, the latter of which received no music video and barely any promotion, although Badu herself did direct a rare video for "Penitentiary Philosophy", which was not released as a single.

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic 80/100[17]
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[18]
Boston Herald 3.5/4 stars[19]
Robert Christgau (A)[20]
Entertainment Weekly B−[4]
Los Angeles Times 3/4 stars[21]
PopMatters (favorable)[22]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[3]
Slant Magazine 4/5 stars[23]
Vibe 4/5 stars[24]
The Village Voice (favorable)[25]

Critical reactions to the album were largely positive. The A.V. Club‍ '​s Keith Phipps praised Badu's lyrical themes and the album's "deceptively simple arrangements, a lovely breakup suite ('Green Eyes'), and near-infinite replay value".[26] Noted music critic, Robert Christgau (of the Village Voice), gave the album a rating of "A" and commented that "maybe her sources are autobiographical, but she’s here to inspire all black-identified women and the men who admire them."[27] Noting the relatively lukewarm reception of the album when compared with Baduizm, Bill Meyer wrote for Ink Blot magazine that "it's everything we say we want in music: gutsy, introspective, innovative, bold, real in a way that few other albums even try to be--and yet nobody was talking about this record at the end of the year." Meyer was particularly vocal in his praise of Badu's artistry, boldly lauding Mama's Gun as an album that is "as good and important as all those soul and rock albums my friends say aren't made anymore: Talking Book, Court and Spark, Curtis, Darkness on the Edge of Town, What's Going On, Maggot Brain, all them." In closing he called Badu "the most important American musician working today".[28] In his review for PopMatters, music critic Wayne Franklin wrote:

Badu continues to grow with Mama's Gun, her third release. It is a journey into a deep and tender part of Erykah's soul; a place most would keep heavily guarded. From the opening whispers that are supposed to be the voices in her head, the listener is made to feel as if they stumbled onto the open diary of a woman who has poured her soul into the pages. At first, you feel bad for invading her privacy, but then you are drawn in and you can't turn away [...] Mama's Gun is a definite work of art, destined to remain in heavy rotation for some time to come.[22]

—Wayne Franklin


"Bag Lady" was nominated for the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and for Best R&B Song, while "Didn't Cha Know" was nominated for the 2002 Grammy Award for Best R&B Song. Rolling Stone magazine listed it among their Top 10 Albums of 2000, applauded her for taking "chances the way Stevie Wonder or Nina Simone did in their prime" and went on to say "she has taken her art to the next level." Entertainment Weekly called the album a "'70s soul homage featuring live musicians and a smooth-funk sound that wouldn't be out of place on a CTI record". Elysa Gardner of USA Today gave the album three out of four stars and complimented Badu's songwriting.[29] CMJ included it in their Best Of The Year roundup and called it "a sultry concoction of mild jazz and soft '70s marked by an all-around reverence for 'retro'....demonstrating her true artistry."[30] The New York Times‍ '​s Jon Pareles named it the fifth best album of 2000.[31]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "Penitentiary Philosophy"   Erykah Badu, James Poyser,
Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson
2. "Didn't Cha Know?"   Badu, James Yancey   3:58
3. "My Life"   Badu, Poyser   3:59
4. "...& On"   Badu, Jahmal Cantero, Shaun Martin   3:34
5. "Cleva"   Badu, Poyser, Yancey   3:45
6. "Hey Sugah"   Badu, N'dambi   0:54
7. "Booty"   Badu   4:04
8. "Kiss Me on My Neck (Hesi)"   Badu, Jack DeJohnette, Poyser, Yancey   5:34
9. "A.D. 2000"   Badu, B.J. Wright   4:51
10. "Orange Moon"   Badu, Brah Lon Lacy, Martin,
Eugene "Snooky" Young
11. "In Love with You" (featuring Stephen Marley) Badu, Marley   5:21
12. "Bag Lady"   Badu, Brian Bailey, Ricardo Brown,
Nathan Hale, Isaac Hayes, Craig Longmiles, S. Martin, Andre Young
13. "Time's a Wastin'"   Badu, Young, Martin   6:42
14. "Green Eyes"   Badu, Vikter Duplaix, Poyser   10:04



Chart (2000) Peak
Netherlands Albums Chart 7
Switzerland Albums Chart 33
Swedish Albums Chart[32] 19
Austria Albums Chart 56
UK Albums Chart[33] 76
UK R&B Albums Chart[34] 11
U.S. Billboard 200[35] 11
U.S. Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums[36] 3

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (1997) Peak
US Billboard 200[37] 86


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  3. ^ a b Touré. Review: Mama's Gun. Rolling Stone. Retrieved on 2009-08-09.
  4. ^ a b Brunner, Rob. Review: Mama's Gun. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved on 2009-08-09.
  5. ^ Klein, Joshua. "Review: Mama's Gun". The Washington Post: C.05. December 6, 2000. (Transcription of original review at talk page)
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  15. ^ allmusic ((( Mama's Gun > Overview )))
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  21. ^ Hilburn, Robert. "Review: Mama's Gun". Los Angeles Times: November 19, 2000. Rating archived on 2009-08-09.
  22. ^ a b Franklin, Wayne. Review: Mama's Gun. PopMatters. Retrieved on 2009-08-09.
  23. ^ Cinquemani, Sal. Review: Mama's Gun. Slant Magazine. Retrieved on 2009-08-09.
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  25. ^ Cepeda, Raquel. Review: Mama's Gun. The Village Voice. Retrieved on 2010-03-30.
  26. ^ Phipps, Keith. Review: Mama's Gun. The A.V. Club. Retrieved on 2010-03-30.
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  30. ^ CMJ Review[dead link]
  31. ^ Pareles, Jon. The Critics' Choices: Danceable Grooves, Hip-Hop Worldviews. The New York Times. Retrieved on 2009-08-09.
  32. ^ "". Retrieved 7 July 2009.  Top Swedish Albums (2000)
  33. ^ OfficialCharts.comErykah Badu|Official Chart History.
  34. ^ "". Retrieved 5 August 2015.  UK R&B Albums Chart (2000)
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  36. ^ "R&B/Hip Hop Albums: Week of December 09, 2000". Retrieved June 20, 2012. 
  37. ^ Cite error: The named reference ReferenceA was invoked but never defined (see the help page).

External links[edit]