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Didn't Cha Know?: 20 Years of Erykah Badu's 'Mama's Gun'

Erykah Badu in 2000

Photo: Anthony Barboza/Getty Images

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Didn't Cha Know?: 20 Years of Erykah Badu's 'Mama's Gun'

Released in November 2000, the Queen of Neo-Soul's GRAMMY-nominated sophomore album was a huge step forward for her as a creator and as a leading voice within the genre

GRAMMYs/Nov 22, 2020 - 03:51 am

Erykah Badu was a force to be reckoned with throughout the late '90s and early 2000s. Her 1997 debut album, Baduizm, which was directly influenced by Brandy's self-titled first record, was immensely confident, enjoyable and successful. Its fusion of vintage and modernized styles—R&B, soul, jazz, hip-hop and traditional African music—earned Badu comparisons to Billie Holiday, Mary J. Blige, Lauryn Hill, Chaka Khan, Maxwell and Stevie Wonder. Paired with the equally efficacious Live later that year, Baduizm instantly earned the Texas singer-songwriter recognition as one of the leading forces in neo-soul.

Clearly, hopes were high for her next move; even so, her follow-up in 2000, Mama's Gun, was decidedly sleeker, edgier and more diverse, allowing Badu to fully come into her own and play a larger role in the mainstream impact of the subgenre. On Mama's Gun, she found her tangibly idiosyncratic path. Today, the album's blueprint can be heard in the sound of countless protégés: Childish Gambino, Amy Winehouse, John Legend, Janelle Monáe and Raheem DeVaughn, to name a few. That she'd eventually lean on increasingly raw, minimalist and experimental avenues on her later albums, Worldwide Underground and the two-part New Amerykah series, makes Mama's Gun that much more special.

Badu began recording Mama's Gun, her first album on Motown Records, in 1998—at Jimi Hendrix's famed Electric Lady Studios—shortly after giving birth to her first child, Seven, who she had with OutKast's André "3000" Benjamin. Along the way, she also worked with The Roots' drummer/co-frontman, Questlove, and joined his collective, The Soulquarians, a rotating group of collaborative Black musicians that also featured James Poyser, Pino Palladino, Mos Def, Q-Tip, Common and many other eminent artists. Naturally, some of them helped create Mama's Gun—as producers, players or both—alongside over a dozen other instrumentalists. It's no wonder, then, why the album features such a luscious, retro and inventive blend of funk, jazz and soul tapestries.

Lyrically, Mama's Gun is rightly considered more accessible and overtly autobiographical than Baduizm; its strong sense of poise explores personal hardships, such as her breakup with Benjamin, self-doubt and social issues, like the killing of Amadou Diallo ("A.D. 2000"). All the while, the record's mixture of condemnation and celebration keeps it resonant and fun. Much like how early Tori Amos and Ben Folds albums could be seen as approaching similar sentiments and styles from oppositely gendered perspectives, Mama's Gun has been viewed as the female counterpart to frequent collaborator D'Angelo's Voodoo, which released almost a year prior. Granted, such comparisons are almost always a bit reductive and devaluing, but there's certainly enough shared DNA between them.

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Mama's Gun produced many accolades. Lead single "Bag Lady" became her first charting track on the Billboard Hot 100. The track was also nominated for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song at the 2001 GRAMMYS; "Didn't Cha Know?," the album's follow-up single, was also nominated for the latter award one year later. Mama's Gun itself peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard 200 and was certified platinum by the RIAA.

Likewise, press reviews of the album were overwhelmingly favorable—if more mixed than those for Baduizm—with The Guardian, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and The Village Voice being among the most complimentary. Unsurprisingly, it appeared on several major "Best Of" year-end lists, too. While there were also some naysayers, such as Q and Entertainment Weekly, no publication was outright dismissive of Mama's Gun. Naturally, this led to her feeling somewhat disappointed by its reception. Still, she felt equally encouraged by how fans reacted at concerts, latter surmising that "the work is not always for commercial success. It's also for spiritual upliftment."

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Two decades on, Mama's Gun remains a beacon of confessional observations and smoothly flowing stylistic changes. Opener "Penitentiary Philosophy" is an exhilarating group effort that begins cleverly with interlocking voices projecting creative and personal anxieties; from there, it explodes into a wonderfully nuanced and conceived psych/funk/soul festival beneath which Badu pushes toward unity in society and the agency of the individual. Such energies follow her onto the quirkier and more playful one-two punch of "Booty" and "Kiss Me On My Neck," as well as the multipart, multifaceted and highly ambitious closer, "Green Eyes," a breakup suite, inspired by Benjamin, whose use of horns, noirish piano, soothing percussion and sundry accentuations make it enormously poignant and seductive.

Elsewhere, the record is softer and calmer, such as with the hip and catchy "Didn't Cha Know?" and the cool-as-ice R&B composure of "My Life." Interestingly, "... & On" is the successor to Baduizm's "On & On" in form and function, with a synthesis of hip-hop, spoken word and jazz elements yielding a carefree gem of self-empowerment that evokes Stevie Wonder in its flamboyant breakdowns. His influence also shines in alternative ways on the tranquil yet sobering acoustic ballad "A.D. 2000," an evocative commentary on the ease with which Black lives are taken and then forgotten in American society. In contrast, Badu's duet with Stephen Marley, "In Love With You," is minimalist, but still uplifting.

Aside from periodic collaborations and other one-off projects, Badu has been relatively removed from the industry over the last few years. Whatever the reasons, her absence weighs heavily considering how much she accomplished beforehand. In particular, Mama's Gun was a huge step forward for her not only as a creator, but also as a leading voice within the genre. No matter which album is your favorite—they're all justifiable candidates that do things differently—it's impossible to deny what Mama's Gun did for Erykah Badu and neo-soul overall. 

Twenty years since its release, Mama's Gun is just as captivating and significant today.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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A GRAMMY Glam Dunk

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

By Will Dawson

For a few hours Tuesday night Hollywood Boulevard was transformed into Glam Central Station as The Recording Academy officially kicked off its 54th GRAMMY Week with the inaugural GRAMMY Glam event.

It was just what you'd expect it to be from the title — an incendiary collision between music and fashion, and beauty and the beats, complete with a GRAMMY gold carpet and enough DJ firepower to ignite a musical bonfire. Sponsored by Olay, CoverGirl and Venus, and featuring the incredible DJ Spinderella (of Salt-N-Pepa), DJ Low Down Loretta Brown (aka Erykah Badu), and dynamic duo the Jane Doze, Hollywood rocked on the dance floor while exploring the cosmetics-filled caverns of the MyHouse nightclub. 

"Each year, we try to reinvent ourselves," said Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow before heading inside. "What we've recognized for years is that there's an intersection between beauty, health, style, fashion, and music. I can't wait to see what our team — who are the best in the world, by the way — put together for tonight."

The Jane Doze opened the night on the ones and twos, with contest winners from Turntable.fm also filling in some of the musical menu with their submissions, lending an interactive angle to the evening.

With three themed rooms that featured waterfalls, flames and even contortionists, partygoers had the chance to pose for personalized magazine covers, get tips from professional makeup artists and, while on the venue's main stage, even get a taste of what it's like to be a model on the catwalk.

"It's a marriage made in heaven," said recording artist Goapele. "Music and fashion go hand in hand. It's great that the GRAMMYs saw that and put this great night together."

Other guests echoed those sentiments, and many were excited for the chance to see Badu take her turn as one of the night's DJs.

"I'm from New Orleans and have seen [Badu] perform at Essence [Music Festival] over the years," beamed former Diddy Dirty Money member Dawn Richard. "She's a hero of mine. Everything she does is bold, from her fashion to her musical choices."

Badu's set was filled with blends of everything from GRAMMY-nominated hip-hop collective A Tribe Called Quest to R&B artist Cheryl Lynn. Spinderella spun the classics, giving the crowd an eclectic mix intermingling hits from R&B dance group Nu Shooz to the late Notorious B.I.G.

If all of the guests carrying their coats and heels in hand upon exiting are any indication, a great time was had by all. It was, by all accounts, a glam dunk, and a great way to kick off what promises to be an incredible week leading up to Music's Biggest Night.

Dreamville Festival 2020 Is Officially Canceled Due To COVID-19

J. Cole

Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

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Dreamville Festival 2020 Is Officially Canceled Due To COVID-19

The second annual music festival from J. Cole's Dreamville Records squad and friends was first postponed from April until August, and will now have to wait until 2021

GRAMMYs/May 19, 2020 - 02:27 am

Dreamville Festival has announced they are canceling their 2020 event due to public safety concerns caused by coronavirus. The second annual edition of the one-day music fest, hosted by J. Cole and his talent-filled Dreamville Records, was originally slated to take place on April 6 at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh, N.C., but was rescheduled to Aug. 29 after the pandemic struck the U.S.

Like countless other events that were set to take place this year, it will now have to wait until 2021. Dreamville says all 2020 ticket holders will be receive refunds soon.

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"After much deliberation and careful monitoring of the current situation, we have decided to cancel Dreamville Festival 2020. Although we originally hoped it would be possible to bring you the festival this August, the ongoing uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 pandemic has made this timeline no longer possible. This decision has been extremely difficult to make, but the safety of our fans, artists, and staff is always our top priority, and nothing will ever take precedence over your well-being," the organizers wrote in a statement shared across their social channels and on the fest's website.

The message also shared details on refunds, noting that all tickets purchased online will automatically be refunded to the original payment method, beginning this week. Fans who bought physical tickets from official points of purchase can request a refund here.

"Thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate this. Please stay safe, healthy, and sane so we can reunite with you in 2021," the statement added.

Watch: J.I.D Talks Lollapalooza Debut, Working With J. Cole & Dreamville, New Music & More

According to Pitchfork, the debut Dreamville fest also faced unforeseen setbacks; it was originally set for Sept. 15, 2018 at Dorothea Dix Park but was pushed to April 6, 2019, due to Hurricane Florence. The 2019 event featured performances from Dreamville head Cole and labelmates J.I.D, BAS and Ari Lennox, as well as SZA, Big Sean, 21 Savage, 6LACK, Rapsody, Nelly and other heavy-hitters in hip-hop and R&B.

No artists have been revealed yet for the second edition of the fest.

The Dreamville squad earned their first two collective GRAMMY nominations at the most recent 62nd GRAMMY Awards; for Best Rap Album for the collaborative Revenge Of The Dreamers III and Best Rap Performance for one of its singles, "Down Bad." Cole earned a total of five nods, including for his work on that project, and took him his first GRAMMY win for his feature on 21 Savage's "A Lot."

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R&B Duo THEY. Talk Los Angeles, Touring, 'Nü Religion: Hyena'

THEY.

Photo: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

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R&B Duo THEY. Talk Los Angeles, Touring, 'Nü Religion: Hyena'

Drew Love and Dante Jones reflect on their rise, why new jack swing is still it, and taking risks on their debut album. Plus they share the craziest things that happened to them on tour

GRAMMYs/Aug 9, 2017 - 10:49 pm

Drew Love and Dante Jones of L.A.-based R&B/beats-influenced duo THEY. have been working for it since the moment the pair linked up in Los Angeles in 2015.

Originally from Denver (Jones) and San Antonio (Love), the guys knew they had a mountain to climb in order to make the right moves and cut through the noise in Los Angeles. And similar to other success stories in music, a lot of the first steps are all about meeting the right people.

"It is a community, it is about who you know," Jones points out. "[GRAMMY-nominated producer and fellow musician] Zhu was one of the first people that I met —  he was fresh out of college, and I'd just moved out — and we really just connected on a friend level."

Through that close friendship, built up through days hanging out at each other's apartments and working on beats and music, THEY. found themselves with a friend with an ear for talent who was making big moves of his own locally.

"Me and Drew had been working on our project, I think we were maybe like eight songs in, and one day I'm like, 'You know what, I'm just gonna pull up and see what he thinks of it,'" Jones explains of how they first linked up with Mind Of A Genius Records, where Zhu had just been signed. "[Zhu] was busy that day, but we played it for the label head, David Dann, and within about a week he was hitting us up, and saying he wanted to help us out."

Once officially signed to Mind Of A Genius, also home to GRAMMY nominee Gallant, the duo initially put out their three-song Nü Religion EP, which generated buzz through the vocal support of Timbaland on Twitter and Instagram.

After wrapping a brief tour opening for Bryson Tiller, THEY. jumped right back into the studio, where they spent the next two years putting together their debut studio LP, Nü Religion: Hyena, which grabbed mad headlines for its purposeful blending of disparate genres and styles.

"I think it's just a culmination of everything we were feeling at the time," says Love. "It became something really really tight. We don't really go in with any preconceived notions of what we should be making, or, 'We need a song that sounds like this.'" 

"We knew that the album was a risk," Jones adds. "We were incorporating a lot of elements that really hadn't been mixed too well before. I think the main thing that was encouraging was how many people really embraced the music. We had a lot of people that really identified with the type of music that we were making. It was just that little bit of validation."

Speaking on their latest output, their funkified vibe track "Not Enough," a collaboration with Norwegian rapper/producer/songwriter Lido, THEY. reveal some details about how their shared music influences pushed the song in the direction it took.

"I've always been just a huge stan for new jack swing —  like Guy, Bobby Brown, New Edition, stuff like that. When we first came out, we listed New Edition as one of our main influences. Most people didn't get it," Jones explains. "But me and [Lido] were telling each other, 'Yeah, I've just been trying to find a way to bring new jack swing back, but I just haven't been able to figure it out.' I was like, 'Well, why don't we try this … ?' And when we actually put our heads together and tried to attack it, it just came together quick."

With their debut LP released this past February, Love and Jones were finally able to break out for a bit and dig into their first headlining world tour.

"Just to be able to go on stage and let out all that energy, and receive that energy back, that's just all a musician could really ask for," says Love. Jones echoes the sentiment, "It gave us the opportunity to be able to create the experience in a live setting. Recording is great, but we were really itching to make it a whole experience and really engage the fans in the world we're trying to create."

So what's up next for THEY.?

"I'm still songwriting behind the scenes, and Dante is still producing. We are working on our next project, so to speak. We just got back off of the tour, and we get to relax and see what our minds have in the tank, see what the next installment brings," says Love. "I'm just excited for music in general."

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