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Timeless Affairs: Mama’s Gun

Welcome to Timeless Affairs, the corner within Steppin' Into Tomorrow, where we'd like to shine a spotlight on essential albums that have shaped our culture (and lives in some cases). We lovingly revisit, explore and zoom in on these gems in their full length. Digging out stories and fun facts from the making of the masterpieces that have built the foundation of the music today and continue to shape the future.

Tijmen de Nooy Photography

November 21st 2021 celebrates the 21st anniversary of a big time favourite. Mama’s Gun by Erykah Badu (aka Badulla Oblongata, aka Sara Bellum, aka Analogue Girl in a Digital World, aka @FatBellyBella, aka SHE ILL, aka Manuela Maria Mexico). Essential album. Can we try to talk about the brilliance and timelessness of this 1 hour and 11 minutes lasting journey that has been so life-changing to many?

Her flawlessly executed 2nd studio album was released on Motown Records. Majority of it has been mixed and recorded at Electric Lady Studios — Jimi Hendrix’s personal studio in New York’s Greenwich Village, that was occupied by the Soulquarian Crew at the time (collective of likeminded and like-zodiacsigned artists consisting of ?uestlove, Common, James Poyser, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, J Dilla, Bilal, Roy Hargrove, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Pino Palladino, Q-Tip…) which resulted in many impromptu sessions and a distinctive sound that can be strongly felt among the albums.

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The warmth of sound of older recordings here has been achieved by the magic of the recording and mixing engineer Russell ‘The Dragon’ Elevado (along with assistant engineer Steven ‘SugaSteve’ Mandel at the time among others) who employed the use of analog equipment during recording, including vintage microphones, recording to tape, vintage mixing gear and older recording techniques, that many recording studios at the time have abandoned in favor of modern technology.

Following Baduizm, Mama’s Gun has definitely taken the listeners to a more intimate, confessional space. With the mood flowing from upbeat to mellow, laying down tracks with guest artists such as Betty Wright (A.D. 2000), Stephen Marley (In Love With You) and legendary Roy Ayers (plays vibraphone on Cleva) , each one of the songs unique in its own way. Starting with an explosive entrance of Penitentiary Philosophy, through funky and witty jam on infidelity called Booty, bangin’ first single from the album Bag Lady that lovingly addressed the emotional baggage many carry around with us from past relationships, reminding us to “pack light”…

The 2nd track on the album, ‘Didn’t Cha Know’ was the first and only collab between Erykah & the late J Dilla.

I met Dilla through Common around 1998. Common and he were good friends and I went to Detroit because I wanted him to be on my album. I didn’t know in what way, but you always hope something works out great and if not you’ll be good friends. I went into his basement and every wall from floor to ceiling was records, categorised. He was a scientist. If you opened his fridge, all the cans were turned the same way. It looked like a graveyard, everything was perfect. He let me pick out some records and there were a lot of things I’d never heard before in my life. One of them was a Tarika Blue record and I was like, “Wow, this is beautiful,” and it became “Didn’t Cha Know.” -Erykah Badu on a talk with Red Bull Music Academy

Slowing down the tempo with A.D.2000 tribute to 22-year-old Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo, who was shot dead by four plain-clothed members of the New York City Police Department in February, 1999. Jazz-infused love ballad Orange Moon follows, and the record ends with probably the most epic break-up medley of all time, Green Eyes, that takes us through denial, acceptance and relapse stages of grief from lost love in a 10-minute emotional rollercoaster ride. (Badu went through a high profile break-up with Andre “3000” Benjamin of Outkast at the time, as she began to work on the album.)

Erykah’s fanbase became truly solidified after the release of this album. She has released 3 more studio albums and one mixtape, eventually coming to realize that her true calling as an artist is on the stage, performing and exchanging energy with the crowd. Erykah continues to re-interpret her catalogue in the most innovative ways, as evidenced by her dazzling quarantine shows this year as an exquisitely put together response to a global pandemic, setting an exemplary blueprint for online concert experiences.

Now let’s start the record all over again and part on the loving note of the warriors reminder from Mama’s Gun booklet.

Thank you Queen Erykah

Peace & light

Tijmen de Nooy Photography


James Brown
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