An Ode To The Power Of Obligatory "Dear Mama" Rap Album Cuts
The "dear mama" songs of hip-hop albums have a strong, but sometimes hidden power.
My mother knows exactly how much I love her. I'm certain of it. Every morning, some time between the hours of 7 and 9 a.m., my FaceTime ringer goes off and there's my mom, excited and ready to chat about everything, nothing and all the intricacies that lie between. And there I am to receive it all and lose myself in the mother-daughter moment.
For the most part, it's always been this way. Once I left for college, we made it a habit of touching base at least once a day . I didn't understand how some of my friends went without talking to their families for days and weeks on end. How they felt relieved with the so-called "freedom." That just wouldn't feel right. In addition to checking in on her daughters, part of Mom's daily rituals involved spending hours on the phone with my Auntie Joan and my grandma. When she called me later in the day, she'd tell me about their conversations. What they said about how much my sister and I have grown. How they checked in on Dad. Quirky little insiders that I wouldn't get unless they were explained to me.
Those two were her best friends, until they both died within 365 days of each other —Auntie Joan at the top of 2016 and Grandma 15 days before my 27th birthday. The times I'd talk to Mom went from once every morning to two or three times a day, plus texting. If Mom calls me at work, I'm taking that call. If I'm in bed still wiping the cold out my eye and the phone rings, I'm hopping up. Shower? I've learned to keep the water droplets off my phone as I prop it up right outside the curtain. In shedding her grief, the fibers of our bond interlocked and bound tighter than they had been before.
It's been the best thing for the both of us. When I talk to her or when I see her, my nagging issues melt to the wayside and all I can feel is love. She feels it, too. Her smile stretches a mile wide, charming Caribbean diastema on full display, and I am filled with gratitude every time I see it. I'm hypersensitive to the relationship she and I share now, to the point where when I come across any sort of "ode to mama" song in my daily listening, the prior contents of my mind immediately reduce to white noise and the fond memories pour in, filling me up. The same way I find sweet therapy in gushing about my mom's love via pen is the same way I love to listen to artists wax poetic about their own. I'm not necessarily talking about Boyz II Men's school assembly-bound, instant tear-jerker "A Song For Mama." I'm talking about the deep cuts on rap/hip-hop albums, the ones you really have to embed yourself in the LP to appreciate.
I have a soft spot for a "Dear Mama" song delicately chiseled into the soundscape of an otherwise machismo LP. The mom song is almost a rite of passage that young, often male, rappers and singers of today go through early in their careers. It's in the same obligatory ballpark as anyone in Hollywood thanking God in their first major acceptance speech at an awards show. How can you not pull an MVP Kevin Durant and sob-thank your mom? How can you not acknowledge her sacrifices?
Ever since Stormzy's Gang Signs & Prayer came out, I've been obsessed with "100 Bags." As you move through the LP (which is excellent by the way), you quickly learn that Stormz is a God-fearing man, and by track 12, we know exactly who he gets it from. "Abigail's yout," as he calls himself earlier on "Blinded By Your Grace," loves his mama something awful. She served as his pillar of motivation, prayer and support after his dad, a cab driver in the same town, decided to up and leave them. In his music, Stormzy's gratefulness is palpable. "When I make a song, you give me feedback/I watched you plant the seed and then you reap that/Made a little money from cheese, I let you keep that," he raps. As the song starts, her morning voicemail to her "lovely son" is what takes me over the edge. In the most charming Ghanaian accent, she sends blessing unto him, reminding him that continuing to follow God's path will lead him far.
But sometimes it's not all sunshine beaming over the family tree. These songs also bring weighty apologies, hashing out the ugly bits indicative of dysfunctional relationships and healing processes. For instance, it's no secret that August Alsina and his mother have had some tumultuous moments. But when listening to "Mama" from Testimony, you know the respect for her part in raising him is there. "Mama ain't always right, but she never led me wrong/I don't know if I'ma make it big, mama but I made it out/I know I didn't make it easy, I know you had your doubts," he sings.
Then on My Krazy Life, YG uses the sweet yet melancholy vocals of Ty Dolla $ign to say "Sorry Momma" for his knucklehead days and reflect on those tough love lessons. "I'm sorry momma, I know I ain't sh*t/I know I lied a lot, I know I ain't slick/ Your last dollars, yeah, that was me who stole 'em out your purse/ (What?) yeah, I know it hurts," he raps before dubbing her his Superwoman. Like many of the other mom songs, the aforementioned are often deep cuts that don’t always get the shine they deserve. Not only do "Dear Mama" songs satisfy that emotional itch and break up the monotony of an otherwise hard-leaning sonic theme, but these hip-hop paeans humanize rappers in ways that aren't always portrayed due to their posturing, persona, rep or lyrics.
Seldom ever singles, these audio odes to matriarchs—grandmas get nuff love, too, thanks to folks like Chance the Rapper and Big Sean—are ways for artists to comfortably articulate and communicate some of the feelings we have toward our own. Or hell, just make us feel point blank period. Make us snap out of the numbness of day-to-day tragedies and trivialities.
Knowing Kanye West lost his mother two years after immortalizing her on "Hey Mama"? You feel that. Knowing that Nick Cannon could have been just a scribbled "what if" name on a napkin had his mother gone through with an abortion on "Can I Live"? You feel that, too. Anderson .Paak watching his mom get taken from him on "The Season/Carry Me"? Big Sean's everlasting adoration for Mama Anderson on "Inspire Me"? Raw, stress-relieving chats between Drake and his mom on "You & The 6"? J. Cole blowing kisses to his mother and marveling at how much she believed in him on "Apparently"? You feel all that sh*t if you allow yourself to.
So, as Mother's Day rolls in and I cozy up next to mine, please excuse me as I nosedive into this pit of said feels with assistance from the softest corners of my hip-hop playlist.