As around the sun the earth knows she’s revolving
And the rosebuds know to bloom in early May
Just as hate knows love’s the cure
You can rest your mind assure
That I’ll be loving you always
-Stevie Wonder, “As”
There’s just something about May. Spring starts to swell into summer. Niggas swap their Moncler puffer coats for their Moncler puffer vests. Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh share a birthday, as do DXCEGAME moms Robin Rone and Young Jin Lee. Today, May 30th, is that sacred day. It only felt appropriate to celebrate these most cherished matriarchs by definitively ranking the ten best rap songs shouting out moms. This one’s for all the mamas, baby mamas, and baby mama’s mamas. Love you!
10. “Dear Mama” 2Pac (1994)
Y’all thought! 2Pac’s classic ode to his mother, Afeni Shakur is perhaps the most known mom-rap, but it’s faaaaar from the best. It’s an early 2Pac hit, certainly, but before he linked up with Death Row, before All Eyez On Me and Makaveli, Pac had yet to really hit his artistic stride. That being said, “Dear Mama” is one of the most enduring, vulnerable and endearing birth-giver-ballads ever penned. A classic song for a classic mother from a classic rapper. Still number 10 though.
9: “You And The 6”, Drake (2015)
Sneakily the best song on sneakily the best Drake album, the two verses on “You And The 6” are premised on separate conversations between Aubrey and his parents. The first one, a Between The World And Me like polemic to his mother, Shelly and the better of the two, is some of the best writing Drake has done to date, not only because it is verifiably his writing due to the intimate nature of its content, but because it hits every quintessential element of a Great Drake Song™. Oversharing but in an understated way? Check. Easy, earworm melody? Check. Sonic and thematic unity? Check check check! Take this prime Drake series of bars from the end of the verse:
“Them niggas wannabes momma/Its like – I’m the one they wanna be momma/I just- I- I can’t be out here being vulnerable momma/I mean I kill em every time they do a song with me momma/I sing a hook they sing along with me momma/What more they want from me momma?”
8: “Mama I’m So Sorry”, Clipse (2006)
The second song on Clipse’s seminal sophomore effort, Hell Hath No Fury, is not your typical sweet, reverent dedication. Instead, it provides a confessional for the Avon Barksdales Pusha T and Malice grew up to be, clearly against their mother’s wishes. But at least they know!. Push is in full form, his apology coming off arrogant. The only things he’s sorry for are that he has too many rocks in his pocket and that his Miami palace is a touch too palatial. Malice, on the other hand, is more introspective about his criminal ways— “I’m sorry, Grandmama, for mistakes I have made/When I aired family business, how you put me in my place/Even my baby mama, I can’t look you in the face/Cause I can’t do enough, you a symbol of God’s grace.”
7: “Only One”, Kanye West (2015)
There are two Kanye mom tracks on this list; you know the other one. But the oft overlooked, saccharine, and eye-welling ode to his then newborn daughter North, written from the perspective of the deceased Donda West, is maybe the greatest Kanye loosie ever. He spins a vivid tale, imagining the joy a granddaughter would be for his mother. Painfully honest and beautifully gracious, it conjures feelings of Stevie Wonder’s parenthood anthem “Isn’t She Lovely”, as Kanye makes a space for the most cherished women in his life to share. They never got to share that space here on Earth, but it must be sweet in the higher world it resides in.
6: “R.I.P.”, Playboi Carti (2018)
This one is admittedly not about moms at all, but it is one of the five best songs from one of the greatest rap albums of the last decade, and the best line on it is “Bought a crib for my mom off that mumbling shit”. May we all be so blessed and talented.
5: “Smile”, Jay-Z (2017)
Jay-Z’s unprecedented classic at 50, 4:44 was mostly, and rightfully so, an apology to Beyoncé for, you know, Lemonade. Hidden beneath the Black capitalism bars and contrite cadences is a warm, wise ode to his mother Gloria Carter. Handled by No ID, the “Love’s In Need of Love Today” sampling “Smile” takes time to acknowledge her sacrifices, the pain and stress he caused with his life of crime, and reveal —in both his and his mother’s words— the truth about his mother’s sexual orientation. A touching moment from a touching album from a man who few people would describe as touching. This also marks the second Gloria/Shawn Carter collab, as the two previously linked up on The Black Album’s “December 4”.
4: “Azucar”/”Playing Possum”, Earl Sweatshirt (2018)
Thebe Kgositsile had the incredible misfortune of his relationship with his mother becoming mythologized and dissected by the public, largely a community of rabid, teenage friends incensed with a woman they only knew of as the person who sent their favorite rapper to boarding school. Thebe, PKA Earl Sweatshirt, has simultaneously had the unique experience of maturing in public, despite his (successful) efforts to mitigate the gaze of celebrity. He’s reflected on his relationship with his mom, Cheryl Harris, a professor at UCLA, many times on wax, but the most complete and tightest of the bunch is the nonsequential duo of “Azucar” and “Playing Possum”, on the mesmerizing, futuristic Jazz Rap masterpiece Some Rap Songs. “Azucar” is the actual rap song here, featuring bars to live by— “Lost foot and it was sugar in my gas tank/My cushion was a bosom on bad days/There’s not a black woman I can’t thank,” and abstractions of a young man reflecting on his own personal growth.
The other song, “Playing Possum”, is more of an interlude than a traditional song. The brief track features excerpts of Earl’s doting mother speaking, as well as recordings of his father Keroapetse Kgositsile’s poem “Anguish Longer Than Sorrow”. The combined messages from his mother and father were intended to be a conciliatory surprise record, however the full vision of the gorgeous song could not be realized when Earl’s father passed before he could hear the album.
3: “Love on Top”/”Countdown” (VMA Performance), Beyoncé (2012)
Breaking the rules a bit again, but this is just too iconic to not mention. ‘Love on Top’ is one of the best songs in Beyoncé’s extensive catalog of hits, but without even mentioning the technical marvels of the vocal runs, song structure and performance, the most eye-popping, memorable aspect of this particular rendition of the track is the revelation of Yoncé’s baby bump at the end of the performance of the hook at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards, the very same award show where Kanye West rightfully asserted Beyoncé’s superiority to somebody named Taylor or Tyler or something like that. As prophesied on “Countdown”, she would succeed in making three from the two, and that one would grow up to be Blue Ivy Carter.
2: “Ms. Jackson”, Outkast (2000)
Certainly the most fun of the bunch, Outkast’s classic-of-all-classics features two of both Big Boi and Three Stacks’ best performances, one of the most memorable hooks in popular music history, and the most unique, fun, and perhaps relatable perspective of motherhood: fear of your lady’s old lady. Little more needs to be said, just enjoy this piece of genius from André:
“Ms. Jackson, my intentions were good, I wish I could
Become a magician to abracadabra all the sadder
Thoughts of me, thoughts of she, thoughts of he
Asking what happened to the feeling that her and me had
I pray so much about it, need some knee pads
It happened for a reason, one can’t be mad
So know this, know that everything’s cool
And yes, I will be present on the first day of school and graduation”
1: “Hey Mama”, Kanye West (2006)
This song means more to Mother’s day than Hallmark and Edible Arrangements combined. It’s maybe the only time we’ve heard a genuinely happy Kanye West on wax. Not happy about his own superiority, but happy about someone else’s: the late Donda West. Knowing what transpires after this song’s release both sweetens and sours its taste. If there’s a silver lining to its aftermath, it’s that the song is now forever etched in our collective memory. It is now elegeic, immortalized by a Daft Punk-accompanied performance at the 2008 Grammys, shortly after Donda’s passing. But more than anything, it is joyous and celebratory. The audial equivalent of giving your mama a bouquet. This line always makes me think of my mama, Robin, the most brilliant person I’ll ever know, and the reason I’m a writer today:
“Can’t you see, you’re like a book of poetry/Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, turn one page and there’s my mommy”