"Mama's Gun:" The Lid of On the Zenith Year of Neo-Soul

A @headphoneaddict Thread
Today marks the 20th anniversary of Erykah Badu's 2nd studio album, "Mama's Gun." It was the final album in a year full of sublime musical breakthroughs in Black music. Particularly for the so-called "Neo-Soul" movement.
In the year 2000, the following albums were released:

D'Angelo's "Voodoo"
Amel Larrieux's "Infinite Possibilities"
Common's "Like Water For Chocolate"
Lucy Pearl's self-titled album
Jill Scott's "Who Is Jill Scott"
Musiq Soulchild's "Aijuswanaseing"
Erykah Badu's "Mama's Gun"
It was the culmination of a sound & Black musical evolution that can be traced back to the Black British music of Sade in the 1980s and the Acid Jazz scene of the early 1990's.
Trace elements of "Mama's Gun" & those albums can all be heard on from groups like Sade, Brandy New Heavies and Incognito.
Now, the real "big bang" on the so-called Neo-Soul movement happened in the late 1980's/early 1990's. This came courtesy of Hip-Hop. Producers like Q-Tip, Pete Rock & DJ Premier were incorporating jazz samples in incredibly unique ways.
The Native Tongue Collective of ATCQ, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Chi Ali & affiliates like Beatnuts & Black Sheep were all able to use a musicality in Hip-Hop that was scarcely heard at the time.
ATCQ and Guru's "Jazzmatazz" album were huge leaps forward, taking rap, sampling & bringing in live jazz musicians like Donald Byrd & Ron Carter, to bridge the gap from the past to the present, informing the future.
Another important catalyst to "Neo-Soul" that was brought by the Native Tongues was the introduction of James Yancey Dewitt, aka J Dilla.
His production on the 2nd Pharcyde's album was a key component to giving Hip-Hop drum programming a human element is didn't have before, along with his ability to use samples is a way few had recognized.
An often overlooked "neo-soul" pioneer is Me'Shell Ndegeocello. Her 1st 2 albums, "Plantation Lullabies" & "Peace Beyond Passion" were a fusion of funk, punk, rap & soul with progressive, cynical yet intelligent lyricism that was equal parts social condemnation & confessional.
Me'Shell also was linked with Native Tongues because her first album was mixed by Bob Power, the engineer behind ATCQ and De La Soul.
By the time the mid-1990's hit, acts like Erykah, D'Angelo and Maxwell had all released their debuts. All of them had links either to Sade or to Native Tongues.
The term "neo-soul" was coined by Kedar Massenberg, the record executive who represented Erykah. He saw it as a cool fusion of 1970's R&B chord progressions & vocals with early 1990's Hip-Hop rhythms.
However, the influence of J Dilla was about to have a larger impact on Erykah and D'Angelo. His trio, Slum Village, released "Fan-Tas-Tic Vol. 1." It would be the template for D'Angelo's next release & lead to the introduction to Erykah and Chicago rapper Common.
At Electric Lady Studios for the remainder of the 1990's, Erykah, Dilla, Common, D'Angelo, The Roots would all converge to make their next projects. Leading to the creation of another collective: The Soulquarians.
The Soulquarians were originally the quartet of J Dilla, D'Angelo, Roots drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, and keyboardist/composer James Poyser. Dilla realized that all of them shared the same zodiac sign of Aquarius.
However, the public knows the Soulquarians to also include Erykah, ATCQ's Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Tony! Toni! Tone's Raphael Saadiq, singer Bilal, and Common.
All of them, with the help of musicians like Spanky Alford, Jeff Lee Johnson, Pino Pallidino, Angie Stone, Roy Hargrove, engineer Russ Elevado, and others, the sessions at Electric Lady yielded some of the most progressive Black music at the turn of the century.
D'Angelo's "Voodoo" was a perfect instrumental transcription of J Dilla's production style; a sort of drunken-drum programming & playing, fused with southern & mid-western soul music idioms.
Common's "Like Water For Chocolate" amalgamated not only Dilla's production, but a heavy dose of Nigeria's Afro-Beat as well.
Although not part of the Soulquarians, Jill Scott, like Erykah, got ties with The Roots. Her debut album found her using poetry. This derived from Me'Shell & rap trio Digable Planets, but with a more straight forward use of traditional spoken word.
Amel Larriuex's "Infinite Possibilities" was an ethereal record, a far cry from her 1990's R&B work as one half of Groove Theory. Larrieux also has ties with The Roots, going to High School with founders Questlove and Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter.
Lucy Pearl was the trio of Saadiq, Muhammad and En Vogue singer Dawn Robinson. It was originally supposed to be a super group of Saadiq, Muhammad, Questlove and D'Angelo called Lynwood Rose, but the Electric Lady sessions kept D & Questlove too busy to commit.
Muhammad has links with Soulquarians & Native Tongues, as a member of ATCQ, a producer on D'Angelo's "Brown Sugar" album, & as part of 3 man production team with Dilla & Q-Tip called The Ummah.
Lucy Pearl's 1st & only LP brought out the best of Muhammad & Saadiq's unique sounds & songwriting. It was a spry, bright colored album of solace vocals between Saadiq & Robinson.
Musiq's "Aijuswanaseing" was another multi-toned album full of optimism & realism told thru relatable storytelling. Much of The Root's aesthetic is lent to it, particularly on "L Is Gone," which samples The Roots "The Next Movement." It's full of Fender Rhodes & earnestness.
And lastly, we have Erykah's "Mama's Gun." It's the completely opposite of her 1st studio album, "Baduizm," despite having contributions from Questlove & Poyser on both albums.
While "Baduizm" was certainly unlike any R&B album at the time of it's mid-1990's release, incorporating 1940's era jazz with early 1990's rap rhythms & attitude, "Mama's Gun" was far more sprawling & eclectic, making "Baduizm" seem more accessible in retrospect.
On "Mama's Gun" you can hear the punk/funk of Funkadelic & Fishbone, the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti, the acoustic reggae of Bob Marley, the jazz vocal stylings of Billie Holiday, with lyrics that found Badu equally self-aware and uncertain.
Although she, Dilla, Poyser, Pallidino & others had fused all these tried & true Black genres, Badu's subject matter was very much of the time, speaking of her breakup with Andre 3000, institutionalized living, & the murder of Amadou Diallo by NYC police.
"Mama's Gun" is the appropriate end to the year of that music.
2000 was to "Neo-Soul" what the year 1959 was to Jazz. 1959 had the following releases:

Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue"
David Brubeck's "Time Out"
Ornette Coleman's "The Shape of Jazz To Come"
Charles Mingus' "Mingus Ah-Um"
That year saw Jazz releases that pushed the convention of jazz out of the window, but wound up being a template for all others. It ironically signaled a decline of progression & the beginning of copycatting & commodification. The same thing happend to "Neo-Soul" after 2000.
Some many copied Erykah, D'Angelo, The Roots, and others, instead of following their lead to push the music forward. This is one of the reasons why Common's "Electric Circus" was not received well.
Despite Neo-Soul inevitable decline, more great albums & artists emerged, like Donny, India.Arie, and Bilal.

Today, it can be heard via acts like Terrace Martin, Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, Robert Glapser, and Anderson .Paak.
So there you have it. I wanted to write an article about this, but I couldn't. My mind couldn't stay motivated. I've literally been trying to write that article for 8 years. So, I just put it all here so I can have something.
This music and this year of albums deserve proper analysis & preservation, but I just can't sustain the discipline to see it all the way through. It just seems like too big of a task to try & get the words right & put things in proper order.
I'm not going to lie; so many article I started to write, intended to be published on album anniversaries or appropriate times to ensure high reader volume have still yet to be finished. I am legit ashamed of myself.
The soulquarian story needs a thorough analysis alone, like a documentary, or something. I thought I could do it, but it's still a work in progress. So-called Neo-Soul was the 1st genre I could call my own as a teen. So, I have connection to it heavy.
But I have problems finishing big projects sometimes. Especially ones I have to do on my own, unless I can finish it all in one sitting, riding a wave of inspiration.
I know I'm not talking about Neo-Soul anymore, so if you wanna stop reading this thread, go ahead. But I want to be honest on this platform. I need help. I have all this desire to preserve & uphold the important history of Black Music, but I can't sustain the energy.
Although I have more success than I did in the past with finishing things, I still have a long way to go, and I don't know what to do to fix it. Just pray for me, guys. And if you don't believe in God, just read or watch my past work.
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