Mental note: If you ever get the chance to interview Erykah Badu again, thank her.
I’m proud of you, Khary. Saw what you were thinking when that cop ran up to your bumper. You got that tense, black-man-about-to-get-fucked-with-by-the-jake feeling. Your joints went stiff and you started glancing in the rearview mirror, without moving your head. Then you started bobbing your head to the music, trying to seem oblivious to the cop behind you.
You really feel every brother knows when his tags are being run, don’t you? Jake rides your tail for, like, a mile, signals with you, shifts lanes with you. Yeah, you were probably right. And when you realized that 1) your license is in good standing, 2) you were driving the speed limit (and signaling) and 3) you’ve never had warrants, your tension turned to anger. Now, you were ready to beef with him. “Pull me over,” you started thinking, sounding like Richard Pryor and wondering what rationale under the sun he had for picking on you. “To hell with that. I’m sick of this.”
Then you heard the music, and the message:
…that your love can make it betterrrr.
Before you knew it, your head stopped bobbing and your anger oozed into a cool melancholy. It was an immediate, disruptive riff, a “Baduizm,” that had jack to do with the jake. Nothing to do with tension. In fact, it did in an instant what Badu said she wanted it do. Remember what she said?
“Hopefully, my music is medicine. Some kind of antidote for something, or just feels good.”
Look to your left. See? The officer done pulled next to you. See how he’s peering at you, looking for the punk? Just chuckle at him, and hear the music. Let it go, let it go, let it go, let it go. Feels good, right? Damn, “Bag Lady” is a profound tune. Look at him now, speeding away through red lights, all mad ’cause his computer turned up spit. Go ahead and laugh. Not at the officer, though. Laugh at the way Erykah sang you right into a change of attitude. Her music does exactly what music should do, doesn’t it? It heals.
“I am awake,” she said. “I am creative. My mind is free. I have strong willpower. I practice patience. I will change.”
Mama’s Gun is aptly titled. It’s a concept album, something we don’t see much these days. It’s seductively deliberate, and that’s why it crept into your psyche at the right moment. Reminded you to act according to what you knew, not what you felt. That’s what artists do. They affirm whoever they are to you. Once they do that, they’re no longer their own. They’re yours, now. So the affirmations she sang became part of your energy. And that happens a lot on this album, doesn’t it?
Told you Badu was dope. And you tried to front on her back in ’97. Remember how you were lovin’ On & On, until she appeared on “The Chris Rock Show” with incense propped on a table? You thought she was frontin’, being an opportunist and trying to offset that deluge of sex and materialism that stole soul from the music. That “Tyrone” single almost rescued her image for you, but you thought that was tactical too.
So now look at you, swooning off the way “Green Eyes” moves through three movements. Movements, guy! Since when do R&B singers in 2001 record songs with movements!? Sis goes from claiming to be over some dude, to struggling with insecurity without him, to admitting that she can’t get him off of her mind. Over three different tracks! And look at you going, “I wonder if she’s talking about Dre? I bet you she’s talking about Dre.” You’re twisted on it, man.
You’ve been wanting this. Honest music, full of proclamation and constitution. Confident music. That’s why, as much as you hate the “N” word, you love “Booty.” When she goes, Ya booty might be bigga/but I still can pull yo nigga/But I don’t want him/I don’t want him/’cause of what he done to you-hooooo And you don’t need him/’cause he ain’t ready. You love that shit! Because you approve of the psyche it comes from.
She told you herself, remember? “I appreciate you and I do not take you for granted,” she said. “I know that the music business is to sell units but my agenda will never change, to make you feel better.”
Remember ’98, when she kicked it in Savannah? And, after directing that Outkast video all day, in 90-degree weather and two months from delivering her baby, she was down to kick it? Sat there talking to you in her hotel suite, nothing but a sash on, while Dre cooked vegetables in long johns and dreads that looked matted as an African pompom. You were convinced then. Knew she was genuine. Just didn’t want to admit it.
Still, I was in your head at the record store the day Mama’s Gun dropped. And I hear you singing the refrain to “Orange Moon” at the top of your lungs. And I’m happy for you. ’Cause I see the music changing you. Maybe for just a moment, but the seed is planted. When she plays the Fox tomorrow, a lot of seeds will be planted.
That’s right. This is real revolutionary music. Not the kind that makes you blame everyone else for your problems. This music suggests that you change before changing others. And I see you doing that. Cleaning your house and singing, Hoooww good it iiiiisss./Hoooww good it iiiisss.
I ain’t mad at ya, blood. And, on the low, I bet that cop ain’t either.Khary Kimani Turner writes about words and beats for the Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org