Have you noticed a saturation of dedications to mothers, retro throwbacks, baby photos and gushing captions? Well, it got me thinking about… rappers. That’s right, nothing says, “I love you mum” like hip-hop/grime/rap. Don’t believe me? Take it up with Stormzy.
Hip-hop has a somewhat chequered record of respecting women in general; but no matter how hard or how thuggish it gets, mum’s have always been off limits. Behind every Jay-Z is a Gloria Carter, and Shawn, like many others, isn’t shy about showing love on-track to his mum. It’s become a trope of hip-hop often contrasted against the absent father that offers up a sweeter, more poignant side to many otherwise macho personas rappers adopt. Below I’ve rounded up how rappers involve their mothers in their music, and what it tells us about the genre’s relationship with mothers and women as a whole.
Stormzy fans are already familiar with his mum, Ms. (Queen) Abigail Owuo – who appeared in his ‘Know Me From’ video and announced Stormzy’s first ever headline tour. It was no surprise then that she featured on Stormzy’s debut album, however her appearance was more poignant than what we’ve seen before.
In 100 Bags Stormzy’s mum opens the track with a touching Voice mail/ prayer:
Hello, hello my son, good morning
I bet you are still sleeping
I just want to bless you this morning
May the God of Jehovah bless you
Guide you but teach you everything you are doing
May the God lead you, as he lead the Israelite to their promise land
God will lead you far
My son, I’m blessing you this morning
God will lead you far, okay?
Just put your trust and hope and everything in him
And he will take care of everything, okay?
God will bless you, in Jesus name
Have a pleasant day my lovely son
God bless you
The whole track acts as a dedication to his mother; in a Fader interview Stormzy commented “I always wanted to do a tribute to my mum on the album. An album is very personal, and my mum is very important in my life. Obviously everyone loves their mum innit, it’s a universal thing. But with me, that was always my long-term goal: to make my mum proud. So it’s only right that I talk about it on 100 Bags”.
The song, like many with the mother trope depicts his mother as a yardstick for his success, his success is tangible in that his wealth has had an impact on her life; he’s:
‘Made a little change, now we’re good, mum / I was saying I’ma gonna get you out the hood, mum / … Flex on ’em, let ’em know that we’re good, mum’.
100 Bags is confessional, ‘Hid drugs but you probably couldn’t see that’ and the subsequent story of Michael’s success acts as absolution since we see the rewards reaped is fundamentally for ‘Mumsy’.
Similarly in Jay-Z’s December 4th, there is also a confessional element and his mother’s matter-of-fact voice acts as a contrast to Shawn’s emotive account:
I pray I’m forgiven
For every bad decision I made
Every sister I played
Cause I’m still paranoid to this day
And it’s nobody fault I made the decisions I made
This is the life I chose or rather the life that chose me
December 4th is not a dedication to his mother but is a lyrical ‘Seven Stages of Man’. We see the formative stages of Jay Z’s life, punctuated by his mother’s narrative, reiterating her consistent and important role in his life, which highlights her power as a single mother.
However, the confessional element also reveals that ultimately there were secrets and a distance between them; her accounts are toned-down and incongruous with his own – which suggests naivety. This naivety dilutes her power as a female narrator, and her maternal voice simply serves to harmonise and acts a humanising chorus to Shawn’s whirlwind of events, (including his dealing crack-cocaine: ’moving (this) crack’).
The skeptic in me thinks that sometimes the mother-trope can be adopted so the artist can tick the box of Drake-like sensitivity; it’s a female voice but used as a maternal-flex – to dramatise the artist’s life and prove that they were always something special. ‘The only one who didn’t give me any pain when I gave birth to him / And that’s how I knew that he was a special child’.
[Intro: Gloria Carter]
Shawn Carter was born December 4th, weighing in at 10 pounds, 8 ounces. He was the last of my four children. The only one who didn’t give me any pain when I gave birth to him. And that’s how I knew that he was a special child
Shawn was a very shy child growing up. He was into sports, and a funny story is at 4 he taught himself how to ride a bike. A two-wheeler at that, isn’t that special? But I noticed a change in him when me and my husband broke u
Shawn used to be in the kitchen, beating on the table and rapping until the wee hours of the morning. And then I bought him a boom box, and his sisters and brothers said he would drive them nuts. But that was my way to keep him close to me and out of trouble.
In Loyle Carner’s Sun of Jean, however we don’t hear a diluted, naive account but gain a clearer more personal insight into what we already know of Lolyle Carner’s personality and life (Benjamin Gerard Coyle-Larner).
The final track on his impressive debut album, “Yesterday’s Gone” includes the 22-year-old MC’s mother reciting a poem about him, which is recited over a piano sample played by his late stepfather. The poem is moving and impressive – the mother here isn’t simply a maternal cheerleader but an artist too; the genetic genesis of Loyle Carner’s creative talent.
He was a scribble of boy
All hair and mischief
A two-foot tale of trouble
The bee’s knees
A cartwheeling chatterbox of tricks
I had to carry a first aid kit
My band-aid boy
I had my heart in my mouth wherever we went
He’d do backflips into the pool when he was tiny
And the lifeguards would get all stressed out
He was a proper Mowgli
He embraced everything
Took things apart to see what made them tick
Such busy fingers
He would empty sugar packets onto the tables at restaurants to draw pictures in
He used to draw on anything
Fantastical creatures with ferocious fangs
And now he draws with words and I find lyrics on my till receipts and bills
He was never still and barely slept so neither did I
I could never understand how he could watch TV upside down while kicking a ball
His eyes shone with wonder
Music flowed through him like a current
He’d upend a stool to use as a microphone
Singing away for his grandparents
He turned the world upside down and we’re richer for it
He was and is a compete joy
The world is his
That scribble of a boy.
The mother trope offers a touchstone to the artist’s existence- you’re exposed to one of their live’s most private parts and offered an exclusive perspective. However, this perspective will always be favourable and biased – meaning the mother trope could be reduced as simply a device to champion and promote men (their sons).
The yardstick of success being to help the mother financially could be viewed as reductive too. However, the ultimate desire to ‘make mum proud’ is empowering to females – the mother is the mecca of morality and ambition. The maternal voice, in whatever form reaffirms their responsibility and power:
‘Behind every great man, there’s a (great woman) mother’.
*there are some exceptions including Sean Price’s 60 Bar Dash: ‘My mama ain’t raise no fool because my mama ain’t raise me, fool’.
This is Grime/Olivia Rose