By// Quinn Peterson
Hip-hop often gets characterized as a brash and insensitive genre, lacking much respect for women. While those criticisms certainly are legitimate, you can find a reverent love for mothers and grandmothers in many hip-hop songs. Sometimes it is conveyed only subtly, but at other times it is clear and definite. Here’s our list of 10 hip-hop songs that pay their own unique homage to mothers:
1. 2Pac — Dear Mama: Tupac’s Spinners-interpolating ode to his mother, Afeni Shakur, has become a staple in hip-hop’s canon. Deemed a thug, Pac displays his brilliance and complexity. While he admits, “when I was young me and my mama had beef, 17 years old kicked out on the streets,” an older Pac now understands and simply wants to remind her: “you are appreciated.”
2. Kanye West — Hey Mama: Upon first listen one immediately feels the poignancy. So genuine, straight from his heart and soul. Given Kanye’s well-publicized affection for his mother, the power of this joint has increased even more since her tragic and untimely death, especially when he’s performed the song live.
3. Brand Nubian —Momma: Interpolating The Intruders’ I’ll Always Love My Mama, this one is heading in the right direction from the start. Dedicated to their “favorite girl in the world,” Lord Jamar opens it up by briefly telling his mother’s life story. Grand Puba may not be as euphonious as the Philadelphia soul group, but the sincerity is unquestionable.
4. Ghostface – All that I Got Is You: Ghost reflects on his humble beginnings and the role his “Old Earth” played in keeping him and his siblings together. They didn’t have much, and struggled for what they did get, but none of it would have been possible without Moms. A mellow piano, some sweet strings and Mary J. Blige aid Ghost’s self-effacing rhymes.
5. Jay-Z – I Made It: Coming at what was, at the time, the (financially) highest point in his career, Jay-Z takes a moment to look back on how he got there — via the selfless decisions of his mother, Ms. Carter. Declaring to her that, “Momma, I made it,” it’s clear that none of it would have been possible without his mother, who supplied him with much the advice that aided him on his way to success.
6. DMX – I Miss You Dear Grandma: Vintage DMX; his focused delivery gives his heartfelt words an added potency. Similar to other songs on this list, this tune begins by remembering sacrifices made by X’s grandmother, many of which he took for granted as a youngster but fully recognizes now, as he thanks her for making him a better person. Faith Evans adds some soul to the tune, too, representing X’s grandmother, singing, “baby it’s gon’ be OK.”
7. LL Cool J – Big Mamma: Like Pac’s ode, this pulls from a classic soulful mother tribute (Sadie). Keeping The Spinners’ chorus and melody, its doesn’t drift too far from the original Big Mamma.” LL reminisces about the life lessons learned from his grandmother, though he did not always understand them until later in life.
8. Jay-Z Blueprint — Momma Loves Me: On the outro to one of Jay’s masterpieces, the Brooklyn-born MC backtracks through life, chronicling the time from his early childhood through his early rap career. As he reminds on numerous occasions, it all begins and ends with momma, though, the woman who raised and loved him.
9. Mos Def — Umi Says: On one of the most memorable songs on Mos Def’s solo debut album, Black On Both Sides, the emcee shows his versatility. With Umi (which is Arabic for mother), Mighty Mos reflects on life, its possibilities and fragility. Despite the dilemmas and potential pitfalls, Umi says, “shine your light on the world.”
10. R. Kelly — I Wish: Maybe a bit of a stretch, but Kelly was becoming pretty hip-hop at this point in his career. With some raunchier hits on his hands, here, a humble Kelly talks about his late mother, and how much he misses and wishes to see her again. “I would give it all up, just to take one ride,” he says. In great R. Kelly fashion, he came with a pretty good remix, too.