Erykah Badu's just trying to do her thing. It's not about her personal life, or about the hairstyle underneath that super-high head wrap (they're extensions, okay?). It's about the music. See, Erykah wants you to feel and grasp the emotions within you — not her. She wants you to throw one hand over your head, place the other on your hip, swing your neck from side to side and sing, "I think you better call Tyrone." Touching souls has been her mission since her 1997 multiple-platinum debut, Baduizm. And emotional reconciliation remains the goal in her latest release, Mama's Gun (Motown), a mix of richly introspective ballads and clever, retro-esque grooves. We checked in with Erykah to talk about her new music and the moods that flavor it.
How did you come up with the name Mama's Gun?
Mamas are the most peaceful people on earth. Most of the time, you don't know your mama has a gun — but when she pulls one out, something serious is going down and she's going to use it. I feel we're at a serious state where we use things like words or weapons to hurt one another. My weapon is my music, so I give Mama's Gun as my contribution.
Your single "Bag Lady" deals with the emotional baggage we sometimes carry. What inspired you to write it?
I actually wrote that song shortly after I completed Baduizm in 1996. It was inspired by feelings of heaviness around me and within me. I'm still a "bag lady" sometimes. They're just experiences I've carried with me from childhood that I try to correct.
Do you feel that your music is a good way to express your feelings about your relationship with Dre (from the rap group Outkast), your son's father?
Dre knows how I feel. He knows everything about me, the way I feel, and the things I want him to know. We're a family. Of course art helps an artist heal. But the album is for the world. It's for everybody.
You've admitted that your locks aren't real. How do you feel about the criticism toward extensions?
It's art. [Hair] is an art form passed down through generations. I don't think it expresses the way I am, as long as anything I wear or do doesn't stop me from being kind or growing. I cover my hair as a statement that hair is not what's important. If people think I'm wrong for wearing [lock extensions], they'll get over it. As long as they like the songs — that's all I'm concerned about.
In one of Mama's Gun's tracks, "…& On," you address the criticism you've received for your lyrics and image. How have things changed since then?
I don't know, because I've just come back out. We'll see by the next few interviews. The interviews aren't the public's opinion, but they become just that. Artists always try to impress the journalist or critic. But often, the journalist is the artist — so they're gonna write what they want the audience to know. It's a gamble. All we [artists] can do is write good music and hope we're judged on that instead of our personal lives.