A lot of Golden Era Hip Hop either addressed or was the byproduct of emcees with absentee fathers. Songs like Tupac’s “Dear Mama”—in which the late Tupac Shakur boasted about feeling nothing for his deceased father “because the coward wasn’t there”—didn’t offer much in terms of painting the father figure in a positive light. Similar sentiments are found in songs like “Where Have You Been” by Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel.
“Hip Hop is very much a culture and music that is haunted by the absence of fathers,” noted author, director and producer, Nelson George in an unpublished 2006 interview. “Anyone who came of age after 1960, which is basically the whole entire Hip Hop generation, has been raised primarily in a single parent home, usually by the mother.”
In that regard, its no surprise that men such as Bryan “Birdman” Williams have essentially served as surrogate fathers for some emcees during their teen years. But now that we’re about two decades removed from Hip Hop’s Golden Era, many of the rappers of yesteryear have their own children. And with time, perspective and the financial comfort that commercial success in Hip Hop brings, many of today’s emcees are either reversing the repetitive trope of the absentee father in Hip Hop, or at least applying a bit of perspective to their own lyrical accounts of their fathers. In anticipation of Father’s Day on June 16, we look at a few examples of fatherhood through the lyrics of rappers that present themselves as not only people who can spit dope rhymes, but also as doting daddies.
Additional reporting by Martin Connor
“Five years old, bringin’ comedy / Everytime I look at you I think man, a little me / Just like me / Wait and see / Gonna be tall / Makes me laugh, ‘cause you got your dad’s ears and all / Sometimes I wonder, what you gonna be / A general, a doctor, maybe a emcee…” –Will Smith, “Just The Two Of Us.”
Between mixtapes such as “The Cool Cafe: Cool Tape Vol. 1.,” and appearances in the movies After Earth and The Karate Kid, it’s easy to assume “The Fresh Prince” was dedicating this track to his son, Jaden Smith. After all, Jaden raps, acts and has the trademark ears to fit the bill. But some simple math—and the widely known fact that Jada Pinkett Smith was pregnant with Jaden during the music video for “Just The Two Of Us”—make it rather clear that Smith penned this track for his eldest son Will “Trey” Smith III. You probably shouldn’t have to be convinced to raise your own damn kids, but cameos from the likes of Damon and Keenen Ivory Wayans, Montell Jordan, Magic Johnson, Babyface, and Muhammad Ali in the song’s music video all helped further the cause of making fatherhood look cool. It’s no surprise Smith landed a Billboard top 20 hit, with this flip of a classic Bill Withers and Grover Washington Jr. track of the same name.
“Got a son on the way by the name of Bamboo / Got a little baby girl, four years, Jordan / Never turn my back on my kids for them…” –Big Boi, “Bombs Over Baghdad.”
For nearly 20 years, Big Boi has been providing insights on pretty much every aspect of parenthood. You can take things back to 1994’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, where Big voices the frustrations of young men from single-parent households on “Claimin’ True” with the following bars:
“I pledge allegiance to the streets, that’s where I growed up / And made my money, ‘cause my daddy never showed up / But fuck it, I’m on my own, I’m in my zone / Ain’t nothin wrong, you don’t belong / You left me standing alone…”
Coincidentally, Big Boi at least temporarily found himself on the other end of the spectrum. On 2003’s “The Rooster,” he rhymed, “K-O, knocked out by technicality / The love has kissed the canvas / Now the whole family is mad at me / My daughter don’t want me at her PTA meetings / And then my son he can’t talk, when I change him he’s peeing / I think he’s pissed…”
Suffice it to say things worked out inside and outside the recording booth. In a 2012 interview with HipHopDX, Big Boi, explained the lyrical candor found on songs like “The Rooster” and the more recent, “She Hates Me.”
“I ain’t got shit to hide,” Big Boi told DX’s Paul Arnold. “I’m human like everybody else. And shit, my marriage and everything is great. I’ve been with my woman for 20 years [total]. We’re going on our eleventh anniversary come Valentine’s Day. We’ve got three beautiful kids. I’ve got a daughter that’s about to go off to college. And, life is really, really good like Nas said. I’m loving this shit.”
“And that’s when Daddy went to California with his CD / And met Dr. Dre, and flew you and momma out to see me / But daddy had to work, you and momma had to leave me / Then you started seeing daddy on the TV…” –Eminem, “Mockingbird.”
Eminem’s relationship with the women in his life—his mother, his wife, and his daughters—is complex to say the least. If Eminem’s lyrics are to be believed, he could be forgiven for not handling parenting like an expert. His mother allegedly did drugs, and his father was also absent from his life. On “Kill You,” he explained, “She used tell me my daddy was an evil man, she used to tell me he hated me / But then I got a little bit older, and I realized she was the crazy one.” Being a parent is hard enough, but doing it with every newspaper and tabloid in the world watching you under a microscope would make it even more difficult. However, on “Hailie’s Song” Em shows that he is more vulnerable than what he presents to the public, as shown by his singing instead of rapping the following, “Now look, I love my daughter more than life in itself / But I got a wife that’s determined to make my life living hell / But I handle it well / Given the circumstances I’m dealt / So many chances, it’s too bad / Could’ve had somebody else…”
In the song Eminem hints at a bitter custody battle as well as his commitment to both of his daughters. There’s no “Slim Shady,” just a normal father who is doing his best to give them everything they need, and not just in terms of the material possessions that could come easily to a successful artist like Eminem.
Jay-Z & Blue Ivy Carter
“The most beautifullest thing in this world / Is daddy's little girl / You don't yet know what swag is, but you was made in Paris / And Mama woke up the next day and shot her album package / Last time the miscarriage was so tragic / We was afraid you’d disappear, but nah, baby, you magic (voilà) / So there you have it, shit happens…” –Jay-Z, “Glory.”
Jay-Z not only allowed his daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, to become the youngest person ever to appear on a Billboard charting single with 2012’s “Glory.” But the usually reserved “Hov” beat his wife, Beyonce, to the punch in terms of disclosing the couple’s previous miscarriage. Beyonce confirmed as much in her HBO documentary, Life Is But A Dream, saying, “I flew back to New York to get my checkup—and no heartbeat. Literally the week before I went to the doctor, everything was fine, but there was no heartbeat…I went into the studio and wrote the saddest song I’ve ever written in my life…and it was the best form of therapy for me, because it was the saddest thing I’ve ever been through.”
For all of their sometimes rigid image control practices, Jay-Z and Beyonce offered an extremely candid look into both the tragedy and joy that can sometimes come with being a parent.
“Daughter of a hip hopper, hustla like her grandpoppa / Her destiny done been determined so you can’t stop her / From being independent, earning paper and proper / More like a lawyer or a doctor, not a man-watcher / That’s where your man got ya, it’s a big world out here / I’m trying to make a black diamond or a pearl out here / And hit the people to the way the world twirl out yeah / And when I thank heaven for my little girl…” –Black Thought, “Hustla.”
Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter has earned any number of superlatives as an emcee, but being an open book isn’t one of them. That changed a bit in 2010 as Black Thought expressed his hopes for his daughter alongside STS on the track “Hustla.” In addition to a brief rundown of the family tree and a hint of the sacrifices made in the name of family, Black Thought rode a melodic track (powered by robotic cooing of a baby) all while maintaining the aesthetic he’s displayed as an elite emcee since the Roots dropped Organix 20 years ago.
It should come as no surprise that family provided inspiration for Black Thought outside of the booth. In 2011, Trotter partnered with Dr. Janice Johnson Dias of the GrassROOTS Community Foundation for a series of young women’s health initiatives.
“Some of the things I was beginning to try and figure out with my wife–like what could we do to better the situation for my daughter and girls like my daughter–happened to coincide with what [GRC] was already doing,” Trotter told Okayplayer.com.
Tech N9ne & Aliya Yates
“Daddy (What's up), me and Reign really miss you, / Not to mention, momma always need a tissue / I saw your picture in the paper and I kissed you / I heard you won't be home for Halloween, is this true / Yeah I'm used to it / Why don't you teach me and Reign how to produce music / So we can travel everywhere that you're traveling / And be in the family, me and sissy fighting and tattling...” –Tech N9ne, “The Rain.”
If you are familiar with Tech N9ne’s music or rapping style, you know that it is extremely unique: he expands on what’s come before, while adding a little bit of his own special sauce. His approach to parenting seems to be no different, as he takes advantage of all the resources at his disposal in raising his children. For instance, Tech N9ne released a video on his record label’s YouTube channel urging people to vote for his daughter for homecoming queen. As he explains, “It’s me, Tech N9ne, urging you to vote Alyia Yates for homecoming queen because she’s beautiful, she’s funny, and she has a wonderful heart. An angel heart. How do I know? Because she has my heart. Why? Because I created her.” His other daughter Reign and his son Dontez have likewise made public appearances. Both his daughters are on the 2006 track “The Rain.” They describe the unique and no less sad struggles of the children of celebrities. His son Dontez is mentioned on the songs “This Is Me” and “P.A.S.E.O.” The self-proclaimed owner of an evil brain and angel heart, seems to always be comfortable displaying the latter when it comes to his offspring.
Murs filled an equally important role as these other Hip Hop parents when he and his wife Kate added to their family through adoption. In 2012, the pair adopted a son, Bishop Carter, who had just been born a few days before. The couple also welcomed another adoptee, a 15-year boy from Alabama named Eddie. They are able to have their own children, but wanted to adopt “to help change someone’s life,” they say. Their decision was also born out of their secondhand experience with the foster system and poverty. Murs said he hoped that he will be an inspiration for others in the Hip Hop generation to make a difference in the same realm, just as the adoptions by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt provided an inspiration. As of yet, these kids have yet to make a specific appearance in any of his rhymes, but he knows that they’ll have at least some kind of impact. “I’m sure I’ll have more stories about being a father and hopefully be making music that fathers and children can relate to more now,” he reflects. He also says he doesn’t feel the need to censor anything artistically, and that Eddie might follow in Murs’ golden footseps: “I think he fancies himself a bit of an artist, so I’m working with him to co-direct his craft and he helps me be refocused and better as well.” You can read more of the interview with Murs and Kate on HipHopDX.
“At this point I realized I ain’t the strictest parent / I’m too loose, I'm too cool with her / Should’a drove on time to school with her / I thought I dropped enough jewels on her / Took her from private school, so she can get a balance / To public school, they too nurture teen talents / They grow fast, one day she’s your little princess / Next day she talking boy business, what is this…” —Nas, “Daughters.”
From the initial mention of his daughter on “The World Is Yours,” where Nas says he chose the word best describing his life to name his daughter, through “Poppa Was A Player,” listeners have heard Nas make the transition from son to father. But 2012’s “Daughters” was easily one of most the unfiltered looks into Nas’ family life. Recounting of his problems with his daughter, such as her posting not-safe-for-work material on her Instagram account, he tellingly documents the difficulties of the modern parent. While ultimately being redeeming, Nas shows that the parent-child relationship isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.
“I’m callin’ niggas on tour / Jayo tell Spizz I just cut the umbilical cord / 11:57 a soldier is born / And he’s flesh of my flesh, young Harlem Caron…” –Game, “Like Father Like Son.”
Game gives the play-by-play for what can best be described as non-traditional fatherhood. Any images of Heathcliff Huxtable (or even James Evans) are deaded when Game recounts running through the hospital maternity ward in his Air Force Ones, smoking a celebratory chronic blunt and calling his homies on tour. With the help of an always animated Busta Rhymes, Game describes the entire birth of the child, Harlem, down to the weight, time, and names of the doctors. Additionally, he has his sons appear alongside him on the cover of his third studio album, LAX. Along with his whole family, Game appears in the reality TV show “Marrying The Game.” As he explains himself, everyone knows the tough rapper side to him, but not many people know him as a family man. On the show he’s frequently doing all of the things that make a father special: being the white knight for his daughter, and supporting his wife when she needs him. He says of her, Tiffany Cambridge, that “She came in and made me whole, and turned me into a man. For that, I feel like I’m forever in debt to her.” This real life documentary also shows Game as a man, just of a more responsible kind.
E-40 & Droop-E
“Rap kingpin giant, six years old vocalist / You don’t want to see me / Do it like I do that / All up in your tall-can face, I’m timing with more scrizatch / Y’all need to get up on it / The game is way too deep / I’m not your average hustler / I be creepin’ while you sleep…” –Droop-E, “It’s All Bad.”
E-40 has always prided himself on lacing listeners with game. But after getting reflective on the 1995 cut, “It’s All Bad,” 40 Water let his then, six-year-old son, Droop-E on the mic for a few bars. Kiddie raps are usually somewhat cute the first time around, but most of the time they fall victim to the skip button upon repeated listens. In this case, Droop-E was almost prophetic, with his elementary claims of not being the average hustler. He went on to produce tracks for Mistah F.A.B., Messy Marv and others, and E-40 has been releasing albums through Droop-E’s Heavy On The Grind imprint since 2010’s Revenue Retrievin’ series. As the young man said, “The game is way too deep.”