HIP-HOP TURNS 50: Here Are 8 Rap Songs That Celebrate Mothers’ Hard Work
On March 22, the highly anticipated docu-series Dear Mama: The Saga of Afeni and Tupac Shakur was released on Hulu. The Allen Hughes-directed opus explores the lives and relationship of the mother-son duo, Afeni Shakur, a former member of New York City’s Black Panther Party, and her equally passionate and self-destructive son Tupac.
One of the many memorable clips from the five-part series shows a teenage Tupac—held in a child-like state, eyes filled with wonder and a smile as wide as all the hope in the world. He boasts about his mother being a revolutionary and how he is arrogant, just like his mother. Tupac holding his mom in high regard brings to mind Jay-Z’s mother, Gloria Carter, who appeared in his song “Smile” from his 2017 album 4:44.
“She’s so f*cking dope,” Jay-Z said on the Rap Radar podcast.
“My mom has been dope her whole life. Listen to her; she sounds like Maya Angelou. Her pacing and her voice is just so regal.”
Like many of our favorite rappers, hip-hop is like a problematic uncle. However, the troubled uncle can share worthy gems and wise instructions, even when no one understands why Grandma continues to believe in her 50-year-old child. This is hip-hop.
Despite the deeply complicated culture of rap and many of its representatives, rappers have consistently unearthed their vulnerability when it comes to their mothers. As Mother’s Day approaches, BLACK ENTERPRISE compiled a list of 8 hip-hop songs that celebrate mothers.
1) Tupac: “Dear Mama”
Tupac’s ode to Afeni Shakur on his 1995 single, “Dear Mama,” a song from the late rapper’s album, Me Against the World, has been entered into the Library of Congress. ‘Pac made it cool for a generation of Black men to be vulnerable. But the brilliance of “Dear Mama” is’ Pac juxtaposing his mother’s faults with her brilliance and resilience. He raps: “And, even as a crack fiend, mama/You always was a Black queen, momma.”
Over Tony Pizarro’s production, Pac skillfully touches on his unstable childhood without his mother. Pac’s maturity enabled him to chide his mother while embracing her love. Listening to Pac embrace his mother’s love on “Dear Mama,” one sees that Tupac would be prepared for whatever life threw at him.
2) Beanie Sigel: “Mom Praying” Feat. Scarface
With Just Blaze making the instrumental cry, Beanie Sigel’s “Mom Praying” from his 2001 album, The Reason, tugs at listeners. Over a sample of The Dramatics’ “It Ain’t Rainin,” the Philadelphia native sews together verses about his mother and grandmother dedicating their lives to praising God and raising their children. Scarface handles his business in the second verse, where he expounds on lessons from the Bible, taught by his grandmother, “Mom Praying speaks to the idea of Blacks using church not only as a place of worship but also a cultural force.
Beanie Sigel raps: “Still keep a strap, won’t hesitate to give the kids whippins…I know grams upstairs prepping for church/Matching up her hat, shoes, pocketbooks and skirts.”
Beanie Sigel’s ability to paint vivid pictures and use his storytelling to maneuver through the house, describing the looks and smells as his grandmother gets dressed for church.
“Mom Praying” will make you call your grandmother to tell her you love her.
3) Kanye West: “Hey Mama”
Over Ye’s joyful yet tearful production, backed by a sample from Donal Leace’s “Today Won’t Come Again,” on “Hey Mama,” Ye delivers a heartwarming message to his mother by informing her that he’s been storing away and using all of the information she transmits.
The merriment that comes through on Ye’s production, combined with the low-pitch voice he uses to whisper during the song’s break, gives” Hey Mama” an ambitious feeling, hoping you, too, can pay your mother back for all she sacrificed.
But the highlight of “Hey Mama” finds Ye touching on his mother’s educational ideals. Donda West was an English professor at Chicago State University.
Ye raps: “Forrest Gump, Mama said: ‘Life is like a box of chocolates/My momma told me,’ Go to school, get your doctorate/Something to fall back on, you could profit with/But still supported me when I did the opposite.”
It could be argued that Ye’s unique perspective on racial matters—on Kanye’s first three albums—is a result of his mother’s education. Kanye brilliantly conveyed all of this in the song.
Fly high, Professor West.
4) Goodie Mob: “Guess Who”
On “Guess Who,” from Goodie Mob’s freshman album, Soul Food, Goodie members Big Gipp, Cee-Lo, T-Mo, and Khugo take turns describing how their mothers were unwavering in cleaning the mess they made, over and over and over and over again.
Khugo raps: “My old burd cried tears of joy when she heard I wasn’t going to serve no time for possession of the sawed-off, running out of spurs/When I came home blowed and couldn’t find the keyhole/Guess who unlocked the doors?”
On “Guess Who,” Goodie Mob captures many of the fears and daily trials of raising Black boys.
5) Drake: “You & the 6”
Drake is no stranger to being vulnerable. In 2015, the self-proclaimed 6 God borrowed a page from Beyonce’s book and without warning or any promotion, released his mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. One of the many stand-outs on the 17-song album is the ode to his mother, “You & the 6.”
Over somber piano keys and crying synths by producers Boi-1da and Noah “40” Shebib, Drizzy raps to his mother. For four minutes, Drake speaks to his mother about forgiving his father, about friends who saved him from falling into dangerous traps of drugs and violence on Weston Road, a dangerous street that Drake once lived on. He also speaks to his mother about the racism he experienced for being Jewish. Throughout everything, it was Ms. Graham’s words of encouragement steered Drake to a successful career.
6) Rick Ross: “Smile Mama, Smile”
Rick Ross has yet to run out of potent wordplay and encouraging words on how to boss up. But in 2015, when Ricky Rozay was accused of assaulting his housekeeper with a gun, his freedom was uncertain. The projects Ross released during this period –Black Market and Black Dollar—find Ross being deeply reflective.
One of the songs to emerge during this period is “Mama Smile, Smile,” a song from his project, Black Market. With CeeLo Green crying over Jake One’s production on the song’s hook, Ross reflects on his mother’s sacrifices. The highlight of this record finds Ross recalling his mother addressing his addiction to Promethazine.
7) Chance the Rapper, “Sunday Candy” Feat. Jamila Woods
Chance the Rapper’s “Sunday Candy” is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Released on Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s 2015 effort, Surf, Chance draws from the Bible and his grandmother’s teachings to show love as a revolutionary act.
Chance’s cousin Jamila Woods acts as grandmother while she croons on the song’s hook: “Come on in this house, cause it’s gonna rain / Rain down, Zion / It’s gonna rain.”
“Sunday Candy” affirms that the love of Black women, and their belief in prayer, can transform lives.
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