Guardian and Observer writers are picking their favourite albums ? with a view that you might do the same. Here, Kieran Yates is gunning for Erykah Badu
As a grown woman, I probably shouldn't still have posters on my bedroom wall but I make an exception for Erykah Badu. The reason why is simple: Mama's Gun. Hip-hop purists may cite Badu's 1997 debut, Baduizm, as her best and that's hardly surprising ? it was, after all, the one that defined neo-soul and announced this then 26-year-old singer's talent to the world. For me, though, there will only ever be one Erykah album that matters. On Mama's Gun Badu represented the woman I wanted to be ? a woman with something to say who could be weird and funny and clever and sexy at the same time.
I still remember watching the video to the first release from it, Bag Lady. I was at a friend's house where I would go to tape hours of MTV on to VHS. Badu jumped straight out from the screen ? a dazzle of multicoloured headscarves bearing a message of sisterhood unlike anything I'd heard before. However, being a late bloomer (at that time I was still wearing fake Chinese tattoos and livin' la vida loca) I still didn't quite understand Mama's Gun. It was before I had ever been kissed on the neck (or anywhere for that matter), before I had felt the sting of green eyes and before I'd ever had my heart broken.
But I stuck with it. I began to realise that Badu brought a welcome alternative to the hackneyed version of feminism played out in the mainstream by the likes of the Spice Girls. It wasn't until university, though, that my love affair with Erykah deepened. I was becoming a woman and the lyrics on Mama's Gun suddenly felt like they spoke directly to me. Every track had the power to make you feel something; Green Eyes is punctuated with faux confidence; In Love With You is a simple declaration of love; Orange Moon provides a disjointed, stripped-back tale of emerging from darkness. The funk-filled breakdowns, disjointed beats, smooth piano and deeply soulful vocals blew my mind. This was light years ahead of any R&B I'd heard.
One of my favourite tracks, Didn't Cha Know, is Badu at her most raw ("Trying to decide/ Which way to go/ Think I took a wrong turn up there somewhere"), capturing those moments of being lost, of losing your sense of logic. In contrast, the explosive entrance to the album, Penitentiary Philosophy, is a ball of gutsy, jazz-infused energy complete with ?uestlove's frantic drumming. It has the power to make you reach for the nearest microphone-shaped object, take a deep breath and commit to every vowel in the opening "WOOOOOOOAAAAAAOOHHH!" Elsewhere, Cleva struck a chord with my insecurities about being, well, a bit of a geek: "I got a little pot in my belly/ nowadays my figure ain't so fly/ my dress don't cost no more than 7 dollars/ but I made it fly/ I tell you why/ 'cos I'm cleva." In singing those words, Badu invites you to see the sensuality of intellect, the fact that having something to say was sexier than how you looked while you were saying it.
All great albums will lead you to discover others ? this one took me on a journey through D'Angelo, Jill Scott, the Roots and beyond. And it clearly wasn't just me who took the ride ? you can sense Badu's influence spurring on Janelle Mon�e, Ledisi and, perhaps less subtly, the five-piece London soul band Mama's Gun.
But these discoveries aren't what I love most about Mama's Gun. What I love most is how it can still help me through my more insecure moments. That's why it will always be my favourite ever album. And that's why sometimes I look over at that poster on my wall and whisper: "Thanks."
Or you could simply star rate it, or add it to one of your album lists. There are more than 3m new pages for you to explore as well as 600,000-plus artists' pages ? so simply find their albums and get to work ?