Erykah Badu has been accused of it all. Accused of being way too righteous, accused of getting too carried away with her religious philosophies (just get her going) and accused of being way too weird. But it wasn't always that way. When she first emerged on the scene in 1997, the girl from Texas with the head wrap, the mass of honey-colored dreads and the doe- like eyes gave music a New Age, funkified jolt it hadn't felt in years. Her light, edgy voice and Terry-McMillan-novel-come-to-life lyrics brought millions to her throne. She came back the next year with a classic live album that introduced us to a no-good man named "Tyrone,'' and then she took a break. While she was away, Lauryn Hill, Macy Gray and Jill Scott took up residence, but now Badu is reclaiming her spot with her second album, "Mama's Gun.'' A feel-good mix of rock, blues and soul, it captures the fire and spirit of Badu with such catchy tracks as "Booty'' ("your booty may be bigger, but I still can pull your ni-ger") and "Penitentiary Philosophy''--a true rock-and-roll classic.
NEWSWEEK: "Mama's Gun" is such a ride though so many types of music--ever get scared of people not knowing how to categorize you?
BADU: If I worried about that, I wouldn't have ever come out in the first place. A lot of people may not understand me and what I'm saying in my music, but I'm not talking to them. Just as many do understand, and that's who I'm talking to. I'd like to think I set a standard for myself and others to do the next thing, to be diverse and to be yourself and not worry about what others think.
Speaking of diversity, a lot of people are complaining that music isn't as varied as it could be. Why is there so much emphasis on sex, violence and cash?
If you only know two or three things, that's what you're going to rap and sing about. I didn't grow up in that world--well, let me stop lying, I did--but I wasn't involved in it, so I didn't focus on it. You have to sing and rap about what's real for you, but talking about the bulls--t out there keeps you from dealing with yourself.
How has the birth of your son, Seven, and being a single mother changed you?
I don't like the term "single mother," because I'm not one. Seven has a father who is in his life. We're not a couple, but we are a family. I see myself much clearer because of my son, because he is me and he's his father, so we can both see ourselves much clearer than we ever have.
Your relationship with Andre Benjamin [Seven's father] of OutKast ended a while ago. Why go so public, and how much did that provide material for "Mama's Gun"?
I thought it was important people knew and understood what happened, because it's so hard to see a loving family break up in this community. Andre is a part of my history--and it's all positive, nothing negative. "Green Eyes'' is the song that best describes the period when we decided to make a change--I wrote it right after we broke up a few years ago. I think he did the same with "Ms. Jackson"--that's about me--on his album. It's a tough song, but he wrote what he felt.
We have to ask, what is under the head wrap? Are those dreads real?
No, this ain't real. I just sew it in. [She takes off her hat to demonstrate how it's done.] This hair don't make me, and I'm not ashamed to say it's fake. What's the big deal? There are lots of people running around with fake hair, fake everything, but I'm for real, and people know that.