Kanye West and Donda West attend a book signing for her book “Raising Kanye: Life Lessons from the Mother of a Hip-Hop Superstar” on May 9, 2007. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty}
Hip Hop has long had a reputation for being tough on women. Whether through violence or misogynistic lyrics, emcees are not the first that come to mind when thinking of tender, respectful odes to those that raised them– songs like Elvis’ “Mama Liked the Roses,” Boyz II Men’s “A Song for Momma,” or even The Beatles’ wounded ballad “Julia.” That being said, when they do foray into this more emotional territory, the results often make for truly classic hip-hop.
Since the release of 2Pac’s seminal anthem “Dear Mama” in 1995, showing love for one’s mother has been something of a rite of passage for many iconic rappers. The hardships, the sacrifice, and ultimately, the support that enabled to thrive not only inspires, but it reminds us that we should appreciate our mothers with equal passion.
Here are the 10 Best Mother’s Day Hip Hop Songs.
1. You & The 6 – Drake (2015)
Drake’s relationship with his mother Sandi Graham has long been detailed in his music. He discusses their rocky times on the 2011 song “Look What You’ve Done,” and encourages her to live a happy life on the 2013 song “Too Much,” but it wasn’t until “You & The 6,” the penultimate track off If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (2015), that Drake wrote an entire song in her honor. “Having conversations with mama, man my life is a mess,” he raps, “Ain’t been returning the texts, so she been reading the press… She worry ’bout me from home, you know she raised me alone.”
In what proves to be a fresh take on the “momma anthem,” Drake precedes to spit about how his public image affects how he talks with his mom, and the struggles they face trying to remain close. “At least I always see it through,” he explains, “At least I’m always being true to what you taught me, retired teacher, your words still got me evolving.” The song’s refrain, “You & The 6 raised me right, that sh*t saved my life,” says it all.
Learn more about “You & The 6” here.
Read the lyrics for “You & The 6” here.
“You & The 6” download: Amazon – iTunes – Google Play
2. Dance – Nas (2002)
After a highly publicized feud with Jay-Z and the release of his album Stillmatic in 2001, things were looking up for Nas’ career. Sadly, his personal life would take a hit the following year, as his mother Fannie Ann Jones died from cancer. In mourning as he recorded his next album God’s Son (2002), Nas wrote the song “Dance” as a way of coping with the pain. “I dream of the day I can go back to when I was born, laying in your arms, wishing you were here today, Mom,” he raps in the opening verse, before going on lyrics like: “I’m thankful to ever have known a woman so real, I pray when I marry, my wife’ll have one of your skills, but Mom you could never be replaced, I’d give my life up just to see you one more day.”
To further add to the song’s power, Nas’ father, jazz trumpeter Olu Dara, supplies the cornet solo as a tribute to his fallen spouse. It may not be the most uplifting entry on this list, but there’s little denying the love that Nas has for his mother, and to hear it in song form is worthy on one’s attention on Mother’s Day.
Learn more about “Dance” here.
Read the lyrics for “Dance” here.
“Put It On Me” download: Amazon – iTunes – Google Play
3. Luven Me – Nelly (2000)
Nelly’s debut album Country Grammar was a massive success in 2000, selling 10 million copies and spawning the classic singles “Rid Wit Me, “Country Grammar,” and “E.I.” But even with this commercial exposure, it was the deep cut “Luven Me” that proved to be the emotionally charged. Over a gorgeous sample of One Way’s 1984 single “Don’t Stop (Ever Loving Me),” Nelly directly talks to his mother, telling her that he put down the drugs and “picked up the mic,” in hopes that he is finally making her proud.
From there, the St. Louis emcee acknowledges how selfish he was growing up, rapping “I ain’t listen, even payin’ attention, I’m just tryna get mine, takin’ advantage of you workin’ two jobs at the same time, ungrateful, complainin’ about Nike and Polo signs. But you always come through, and what I do, wreck both your cars stole money from your drawers.” Nelly discusses his girlfriend later in the song, but its definitely this heartfelt admittance that makes this song a hidden gem.
Learn more about “Luven Me” here.
Read the lyrics for “Luven Me” here.
“Luven Me” download: Amazon – iTunes – Google Play
4. All That I Got Is You – Ghostface Killah featuring Mary J. Blige (1996)
On this centerpiece from his classic debut Ironman (1996), Ghostface Killah delivers a heartfelt account of his youth and the woman who raised him. “Yeah, oh yeah, this goes out, to all the families that went through the struggle,” he raps, as he goes into a lyrically dense narrative involving cheap apartments, sugar water, and plucking roaches out of the cereal box. “Sadly, daddy left me at the age of six, I didn’t know nuttin’ but mommy neatly packed his sh*t, she cried,” he raps, “And grandma held the family down, I guess mommy wasn’t strong enough, she just went down.”
The honesty that Ghostface puts into his verses makes the a touching listen, especially amidst the violent, abstract content that appears elsewhere on the album. To further this aesthetic, Wu-Tang producer RZA perfectly tailors a sample of the Jackson 5‘s “Maybe Tomorrow,” while Mary J. Blige sings with a pained understanding that ties the entire song together.
Learn more about “All That I Got Is You” here.
Read the lyrics for “All That I Got Is You” here.
“All That I Got Is You” download: Amazon – iTunes – Google Play
5. Momma – Kendrick Lamar (2015)
Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) has been hailed as one of the important hip-hop albums of the 21st century. With spastic flows, spiritual rhetoric, and the integration of classic genres like funk, soul, and jazz, Lamar’s project was hailed by Rolling Stone‘s Greg Tate as “A densely packed, dizzying rush of unfiltered rage and unapologetic romanticism.” Despite this seemingly one-note intention, however, Lamar also found time to discuss the impact of his mother’s upbringing on his worldview.
The song “Momma” finds the rapper spitting lyrics like “I know loyalty, I know respect, I know there’s ornery, I know everything, the highs, the lows, groupies, the junkies, I know if I’m generous at heart, I don’t need recognition. The way I’m rewarded, well that’s God’s decision.” The song is the least-conventional of hip-hop’s “mom anthems,” but its clear that without Lamar’s mother, Paula Oliver, and their “home,” he wouldn’t be the man he is today.
Learn more about “Momma” here.
Read the lyrics for “Momma” here.
“Momma” download: Amazon – iTunes – Google Play
6. Guess Who – Goodie Mob (1995)
One of the lesser-known selections on this list, “Guess Who” finds Goodie Mob paying homage to a special person who is the nurturer and provider of the family. “You ’bout to make me slam your back,” are the lines that open the song, referring to how mad one’s mother can make you, before admitting “But I love her till death do us part, though she divorced my pop the hard way.”
The Goodie Mob crew, including Khujo, T-Mo, and Big Gipp, also prove detailed stories from their youth, but its CeeLo Green, with his raspy flow and impassioned singing, that steals the show with lines like “I never knew my dad, so even when times got bad, I was glad because I had my momma.” The way this song articulates the love-hate relationship between a mother and her child is extremely relatable, and serves to make this album cut a certified mom classic.
Learn more about “Guess Who?” here.
Read the lyrics for “Guess Who?” here.
“Guess Who?” download: Amazon – iTunes – Google Play
7. Blueprint (Momma Loves Me) – Jay-Z (2001)
Jay-Z is one of hip-hop’s most famous artists. Whether discussing classic records or sheer business savvy, he’s impossible to leave out of the conversation. Still, his music rarely goes into overtly personal territory, save for standout records like “Song Cry,” “Lost One,” and this loving ode from 2001, “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me).” Jay proceeds to narrate what it was like growing up in Brooklyn, and the struggles that he and his mother had to face. The song opens up in startlingly blunt fashion, with the line “Momma loved me, pop left me,” before getting delving into lyrical couplets like “I was the baby boy, I could do no wrong, yeah it’s goin’ past fast, let’s move along, kitchen table, that’s where I honed my skills.”
Jay proceeds to shout out various other figures from his past, including his grandmother, his sisters Michelle and Andrea, and his mentor Jaz-O, but the one person he repeatedly comes back to on the track is his mother, Gloria Carter. “I was brought up in pain, y’all can’t touch me,” he brags, while also acknowledging that none of it could’ve been possible without mom.
Learn more about “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)” here.
Read the lyrics for “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)” here.
“Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)” download: iTunes
8. Ms. Jackson – OutKast (2000)
Another unconventional ode to mothers, “Ms. Jackson” instead focuses on the mothers-in-law. The song was inspired by André 3000‘s relationship with neo-soul singer Erykah Badu, which resulted in the birth of their child Seven Sirius Benjamin and the criticism of Badu’s mother, Kollen Maria Gibson. Feeling guilty over the situation, André and his OutKast partner Big Boi decided to address things on record, and the results made for one of the duo’s most acclaimed songs to date.
“Me and your daughter, got a special going on, you say its puppy love, we say its full grown,” André raps, “Hope we feel this, feel this way forever, you can plan a pretty picnic but you can’t predict the weather, Ms. Jackson.” Over an glitchy instrumental, André conveys the tricky feelings of having love for someone, but being unable to grow with them. Badu was asked how her mother felt about the song in 2016, and she told The Huffington Post: “Baby, she went out and bought herself a Ms. Jackson license plate.” Well played, OutKast.
Learn more about “Ms. Jackson” here.
Read the lyrics for “Ms. Jackson” here.
“Ms. Jackson” download: Amazon – iTunes – Google Play
9. Hey Mama – Kanye West (2005)
No one in hip-hop speaks more highly of his mother than Kanye West. And this song, released on West’s sophomore album Late Registration (2005), articulates this love in delightful form. “Hey Mama, I wanna scream so loud for you,” he croons over the opening musical phrases, “I appreciate what you allowed for me, I just want you to be proud of me.” The rest of the song keeps up this tone, as West and co-producer Jon Brion create a musical bed of cooing sounds and samples taken from the Donal Leace song “Today Won’t Come Again.” Other lyrical gems on the record include “Can’t you see, you’re like a book of poetry/Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, turn the page and there’s my mommy.”
The song would take on an increased importance when West’s mother Donda passed away from surgery complications in 2008. His music would take a more sonically melancholy turn in the wake of this tragic loss, but “Hey Mama” remains a staple in his live shows, as he continues to celebrate the woman who raised him. “It don’t gotta be Mother’s Day, or your birthday, for me just to call and say (Hey Mama).”
Learn more about “Hey Mama” here.
Read the lyrics for “Hey Mama” here.
“Hey Mama” download: Amazon – iTunes – Google Play
10. Dear Mama – 2Pac (1995)
“Dear Mama” remains the definitive hip-hop song about mothers. Nearly every lyric and sentiment expressed here has influenced the way other rappers approach the topic, from the brutal honesty to the pain of seeing one’s mother in a vulnerable place. “When I was young me and my momma had beef, 17 years old, kicked out on the streets,” 2Pac spits in ernest, “Though back at the time I thought I’d never see her face, ain’t a woman alive who can take my mom’s place.”
‘Pac goes on to narrate the struggles of seeing Afeni Shakur suffer from drug addiction (“Even as a crack fiend, momma, you always was a black queen, mama”) while being forced to raise a son by herself (“A poor single mother on welfare, tell me how you did it, there’s no way I could pay you back, but the plan is to show I understand, you are appreciated”).The song has reached such legendary status that the Library of Congress inducted it into the National Recording Registry for its cultural significance in 2010. For a Mother’s Day playlist, its bears the perfect sentiment for every mom: “You are appreciated.”
Learn more about “Dear Mama” here.
Read the lyrics for “Dear Mama” here.
“Dear Mama” download: Amazon – iTunes – Google Play
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