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Keeping it Real: Erykah Badu

She's the type of soulstress whose voice and style, likened to that of Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Marvin Gaye, and Chaka Khan, makes you to feel a certain way, namely sexy.

On a 21-date trek touring Mama's Gun (2000), her third and much anticipated album since her debut with Baduizm (1997), she's headed to Oakland to grace us with her new Badu self.

Worth the wait, Mama distills a more mature, truthful, and genuine Badu all the way around. And she's still sexy as ever. With moody and personally exposing lyrics, Mama beams the stellar brightness and strength of an inner child: no doubt the direct result of her break-up from long time rapper boyfriend, Dre (Andre Benjamin) from Outkast, and father of their child, Seven Sirius.

A lucky charm, Seven, has been her joy, focus and reason it took her so long to get back to the studio. It makes sense that her role as mama has helped fueled the depth of soul that packs Mama's Gun.

On "Orange Moon" she paints a jazzy, melodic, and metaphoric view of a rising moon. On its ascent from the stratospheric dust, the orange moon brightens and reflects the face of the sun, making the mystery and presence of the orange moon a clairvoyant and enviable salvation. You can't help but believe what motherhood has done for her, as she woos you into a reassurance of "how good it is".

On "AD 2000", with its thoughtful accompaniment of nice rim shots, warm weather guitar, and easy snares, we sense a relaxed and more resolute understanding in her voice that soaks up the slow motion. While "Penitentiary Blues" has the vengeance, righteousness and vigor worthy of a Lenny Kravitz track. "Didn't Cha Know" keeps it steady with nice bass lines, cradling soul like the easy groove of a Lonnie Liston Smith track, bongos beckoning, adorned with smart diva vocals.

The forward-looking "My Life" resonates the spunk of her first album. It preaches the self-taught restraint and grown-up mantra of "No turning back" over and over. With stylings reminiscent of the Soul II Soul album, Keep on Moving (1989), the groove on this danceable track pulses with electronic strings driving the beat.

"Bag Lady" sits just right. Nominated for two Grammys this year, one for Best R&B song, and one for Best R&B Female Performance, it hints at the loneliness and insight she gains from making her own mistakes, and wisely advises to avoid the baggage and move on.

The crown jewel of the album is the three-part "Green Eyes" which displays the full chromatic and musical scale of the color of green. It gives us the god's honest truth of jealousy, the confusion and the acceptance of loss, throughout which she hides nothing.

Mama offers the full palette of feelings, both frank and confounded, but all very effeminate, while framed in a wise, if lovelorn, voice. Embracing a mix of soul, jazz, hip-hop and R&B, we experience her evolution as a lady who sings the blues, poised gracefully in the mold of a Mama's Gun.

"No matter what is going on in your life, sisters take your bubble bath. We all have to remember that if you don't take care of yourself, no one will." - Erykah Badu, 1997