Dear Mama: Hip Hop Motherhood Told Through Lyrics
In honor of Mother's Day, we're moving the spotlight back on the actual mothers by looking at 10 tracks about women in Hip Hop raising children.
Each year on Mother’s Day, many a Hip Hop head reflects on their mother via classic songs featuring emcees paying homage to the women that birthed and helped raise them. Whether viewed through the lens of Ghostface Killah praising his “Old Earth” on “All That I Got Is You” or Ms. Maureen Yancey, who is affectionately referred to by J Dilla fans as “Ma Dukes,” the motherly love displayed in Hip Hop belies the music’s misogynistic reputation.
But how often do we hear from the actual mothers in Hip Hop? Aside from classic tales of Rah Digga rocking mics (and subsequently signing her Flipmode Squad deal) while pregnant, first-person perspectives of women raising children in Hip Hop are few and far in between. In honor of Mother’s Day, we’re moving the spotlight back on the actual mothers. Here’s a look at 10 tracks about women in Hip Hop raising children, paying homage to their own mothers or just offering narratives about motherhood from a woman’s perspective.
Lauryn Hill - “To Zion”
“Unsure of what the balance held / I touched my belly overwhelmed, by what I had been chosen to perform / But then an angel came one day / Told me to kneel down and pray / For unto me a man child would be born / Woe this crazy circumstance / I knew his life deserved a chance / But everyone told me to be smart...” — Lauryn Hill
Public criticism be damned, on “To Zion,” L-Boogie leans on her religious influences while describing the painful peer pressure to put her career before her pregnancy. As she paints a beautiful analogy with the annunciation of Jesus’ birth to Mary by the angel Gabriel, Lauryn explains why she decided to be courageous. The song was released on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, an album that notched a then record five Grammy awards. At that time, Lauryn Hill would have been pregnant with either her son Zion, the Rastafarian name for a utopian city, or Selah, meaning “stop and listen” in Hebrew. Fifteen years later, this song feels like a piece of subtle foreshadowing into the convictions that eventually led her into a self-imposed exile from the music industry.
Erykah Badu - “Otherside Of The Game”
“Now me and baby got this situation / See brotha got this complex occupation / And it ain’t that he don’t got education / ‘Cause I was right there at his graduation / And I ain’t sayin’ that this life don’t work / But it’s me and baby that he hurts...” — Erykah Badu
Always insightful and introspective, Erykah Badu takes us into the complicated life of a drug dealer’s baby mama. Caught between protecting her child and financial security, the Queen of Neo-Soul explains the situation while dispelling the stereotypical criminal archetype. Limited opportunity and lacking education are not always cause behind choosing this “complex occupation,” as Badu soulfully emotes on “Otherside Of The Game.” With her onetime beau—Andre 3000—playing the boyfriend role in the video, this one feels authentic even if it isn’t personal.
Kelis - “Song For The Baby”
“So I’m writing this letter to you baby / Just like my mother told me / She always said say yes before you say no / And say maybe / See I’ll never sugarcoat any life lessons for you / ‘Cause I wanna make you equipped for the best / And I can’t always be here to rescue you when life gets crazy...” — Kelis
Kelis sympathizes with all the mothers out there, while dispensing some baby advice that her own mom had passed along. After the birth of her child Knight with the rapper Nas in 2009, Kelis released this song on her 2010 critically acclaimed album, Flesh Tone. Kelis knows adversity. She’s endured a divorce with Nas and was subsequently the subject of an ugly legal dispute and rather detailed tracks by Nas chronicling the couple’s split. Public drama aside, at least there’s at least one piece of advice Kelis shouldn’t have to worry about passing along: How to make a dope song.
Shawnna - “Can’t Break Me”
“It’s like I’m all alone in this shit / And ain’t nobody tryin’ to lend a hand to a bitch / My baby asking why his daddy don’t love him yet / I swear to God it’s like a bullet going through my chest / I’m trying to make it by myself but scared of breaking down / I slit my wrist and told God to come and take me now / I got a born dark child and don’t know who the dad...” — Shawnna
Shawnna’s got the blues hard on this track and not just because her father—legendary guitarist Buddy Guy—hopped on it. Over a no-nonsense beat, the former Def Jam South-artist invokes all the complexity of being a single parent: religion, charity, love, depression, and even violence. She describes the life of a single mother that too many women call reality.
Eternia - “Love”
“I love my life / I love my mother and I love myself / I love my family / I’d sacrifice for no one else / And if you taught me one thing, Mother you taught me well / This is just another survival story to tell / And if you taught me one thing, Mother you taught me this / Always have faith / Live strong / And resist” — Eternia
Eternia describes her own harrowing origins on this impassioned salute to her enduring mother. In fact, in differing circumstances, the Ontario native wouldn’t even be here to bless this smooth beat. Her mom was victimized regularly prior to ET’s birth and sincerely considered terminating the pregnancy. “Love” is an emotional foray into the oft-dark dynamics into which many children are born. “I love my life, I love my mother, I love myself,” says Eternia, concluding the last verse. Mother’s Day was made for moms like ET’s.
Queen Pen - “Baby Daddy”
“It really broke my heart to see you pushin’ that whip / When you couldn't even cop a new coat for your kid / It really broke my heart when you cocked backed on me / When I was six months pregnant, still beatin’ on me / It really fucked me up how you put me in debt / Fuckin’ up QP’s dollars and cents / To think I catch your dough and your whiz in my crib / Jeopardize a livelihood on me and my kids / And which one of those seeds belong to you / God would've been better off makin’ a cat or a baboon instead of you...” — Queen Pen
Queen Pen kicks a common tale on “Baby Daddy.” “Boo hoo…Sad story…Black American Dad Story,” as Drake might say. The Brooklyn, New York-native rightfully sounds off on the abusive, neglectful father of her child. It’s an awful experience artfully depicted. There’s no indication whether this song is autobiographical or allegorical, but it’s revels in reality nonetheless. And with at least one son of her own—rapper Nefu Da Don—let’s just hope the apple falls far from the tree.
Sole - “Pain”
I got to deal with the what is, fuck what if’s / Got to put it down and make it right for my kids / How many parties, how many bottles gotta pop / How many more gots to die / When this shit gone stop / I feel it in my heart, but I plays my part / It's a whole bigger picture so stay true to your art...” — Sole
Sole dives deep into her soul and asks some really tough questions on “Pain”—questions that many would be afraid to ask. As we’ve seen these 10 emcees speak on motherhood from one angle or another, a parent’s life is turned upside-down when they bring someone else into this world. It was all about you. Now there’s a life reliant on you. Sole’s lyrics are a reminder that Mother’s Day shouldn’t just be a day to remember the good times with the women that created us. Maybe we should also remember those hard times that shaped us today and made the great times even better.
Trina - “Mama”
“And I’m gone always be yo baby / And I cant never repay you for all the things that you gave me / You raised me to be a lady / And you schooled me to the game so them niggas couldn’t play me / You was more than a mother you was a friend…” — Trina
Trina has an awesome mother. The Florida-based emcee’s childhood was littered with bedtime stories and goodnight kisses all because of her mom. Trina also explores how the mother/daughter relationship changes over time, especially as the younger woman grows and matures.
She still yearns for a time when mom was always right. In fact, we could all learn from the advice of Trina’s mom, if we’d only take a day—such as this May 19th—to listen. If it meant I’d receive a beautiful, searching song like this from an award-winning rapper for a gift, would I become a mom? I’m no Dante Smith, but Mos. Def.
Rapsody - “In The Town”
“All the older women say she look just like her mom / And how she used to read the scripture from the bible, Mark and John / But now she's all alone in the town by herself / Like her mom that fell to her knees, living for the wealth / Worried by the health and the life that's inside her / Reading scriptures from the bible now and this is the cycle of the town” — Rapsody
Cut from the same musical cloth as Erykah Badu’s appearance on this list, Rapsody raps with an easy flow on a subject that is anything but. She describes how hard it is for a young mother and all the issues she has to deal with. Perhaps the most powerful element of the song is that we never exactly know who the mother in question is, and how she relates to Rapsody. Is she Rapsody’s mom? One of her friends? Is it Rapsody herself? Maybe it’s better we don’t know, because then she could be anyone—even someone we know.
Nicki Minaj - “Autobiography”
“Shes my queen and I ain't even british / Shes the only reason that I went to school and I finished / She told me that I had talent / Got on her knees and prayed for me when I started being violent / She saw something in me that, until this day I don't know if I could be dat...” —Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj pens a prayer to the holy trinity of motherhood: her father, her mother, and her own child. The Rap sensation draws links between all three and shows how they influenced her own habits as a mother. She perfectly communicates how scary and unsure it can be to be a mother. Even if you’re not her biggest fan, you gotta respect the real shit she’s been through. Her path to stardom was not straight and easy by any means.