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This Sunday is Mother’s Day. (Yes, we’re sure. Yes, there’s still time to get her something.) And what better way to thank the person who brought you into this world than with the gift of music? Few genres have dedicated as many songs to the importance of mothers and mother-figures as hip-hop, but in a cruel bit of the universe’s irony, it’s often the mothers of the world detesting hip-hop that makes the counter-culture seem so cool. In the name of fairness and compromise, we now present a Hip-Hop Mother’s Day playlist that you can even play around Mom! (No, there’s no Eminem.)
LL Cool J
“Mama Said Knock You Out,” 1990
Mothers always know best. We may not realize it until we’re older, but not eating bacon every day, wearing a scarf and cutting-out coupons are actually all fantastic ideas. They’re also great motivators when it comes to achieving our dreams. Take LL Cool J, whose comeback (sorry LL, forgot you told us not to call it that) was inspired by his mother requesting that he render other rappers unconscious. It worked out and LL became hotter than ever. There’s no word yet regarding her opinion on “Accidental Racist.”
“Dear Mama,” 1995
Plenty of former cultural studies majors have written hundreds of uninteresting pages on Tupac’s relationship with women over the course of his career. But whether you think his music viewing women through the masculine gaze of capitalism’s archetypes by deconstructing the feminine mystique or some some such, one thing we can all agree on is how “Dear Mama” is a stellar song. A heart-on-his-sleeve tribute showing a true moment of recorded vulnerability, “Dear Mama” remains, almost 20 years after its release, the standard for saluting the woman who brought you here.
“Guess Who,” 1995
The mid-90s might have been the best time for songs about Mothers in rap. Along with 2Pac’s iconic “Dear Mama” and Ghostface’s exploration of the importance of mothers in urban poverty in “All I Got Is You,” Atlanta’s Goodie Mob represented for southern moms with “Guess Who.” With the Dungeon Family quartet being among rap’s most diverse collectives, they each tell the tales of their mothers’ unique stories. Yet, despite being so different, the Mob’s mothers each exemplified the same hallmarks of love, responsibility and wisdom that make mothers great.
Beanie Sigel f/ Scarface
“Mom Praying,” 2001
The “Broad Street Bully” Beanie Sigel is known as one of rap’s most uncompromisingly raw voices. One year after his song “What Ya Life Like” gave arguably the genre’s most unglamorous and unsettling description of prison time, Sigel returned with “Mom Praying.” A tribute to his mother and grandmother (who raised “10 boys, seven daughters / three-story house with no supporter”), Sigel taps into the feelings of warmth and security a mother’s love brings through the subtle reminders of how she cares, as well as brutally threatens anyone who would disrespect her. Joining him is frequent collaborator Scarface whose strong relationship with his mother has been referenced throughout his career, but never more directly than here.
Insane Clown Posse
“The Mom Song,” 2001
A mother’s love is unconditional, even if her child grows up to be a politician, a cowboy, or a wicked clown. Insane Clown Posse member Violent J has made no secret of how thankful he was for having such a supportive parent, and on the group’s 2001 rarities collection Forgotten Freshness Vol. 3 put his feelings on record with the inventively titled “The Mom Song.” Joined by frequent associate The Rude Boy on the hook, J takes a break from the Dark Carnival’s Juggalo mythology to remember every thing from his mother setting up chairs at his early backyard shows to his regrets about “the china cabinet.” If there’s a chance your mother would enjoy any ICP song, this would be it.
“Hey Mama” (Demo Version), 2003
Most remember Kanye West’s sophomore album Late Registration for its lavish soundscapes and sweeping production. As enjoyable as the beats on it are, there’s something really special and much more earnest about the demo version of “Hey Mama.” Recorded prior to the release of his first album (in the “Isn’t it pronounced ‘Kain?'” days) you can hear that West didn’t have much else in his life other than the love of his mother, but that was more than enough for him. RIP Mama West.
“Whip You With a Strap,” 2006
On the late J. Dilla’s masterpiece Donuts, his track “One For Ghost,” re-contextualized and repeated a sample of Luther Ingram’s opening line from “To the Other Man” which resonated with listeners and called to mind memories of their mother’s guidance. One such listener, Ghostface Killah, used the beat that same year for his song “Whip You With a Strap,” a shining example of his effective storytelling that recalled instances of his mother’s punishments that helped shaped him into the person he became.
“Take Me in My Sleep,” 2007
Kansas City rapper (they exist) Mac Lethal’s offered a few unique perspectives on the mother-son dynamic in his decade-plus career. While one of his first signature songs was the outrageous fictional “My Mom Izza Thug,” his later work explored both the joys of making his mother proud as well as the pain of eventually losing her. His 2007 track “Take Me in My Sleep” recalled the moments of taking care of her when she was sick and the bravery required by both individuals in such an ordeal. As touching as it is contemplative, it’s a brave look at searching for comfort in one of life’s toughest situations.