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Why Rappers Love to Put Their Moms on Songs

From 2Pac to Drake, hip-hop overflows with mama’s boys

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

On “4PM in Calabasas,” an otherwise forgettable Drake song from last summer, there’s a clever bit when he compliments his mom at his dad’s expense.

Dennis Graham is a musician, so of course he’s inclined to give his son, a rapper, this sort of advice. Dennis is on the cover art for Drake’s latest album, More Life, but it’s his mom, Sandi — the Graham family’s prevailing wisdom — who speaks on the record itself. On More Life, Drake dedicates a song, “Can’t Have Everything,” to rehashing his beef with Meek Mill, only to end the track with a voicemail recording of his mother telling him to relax, drop the attitude, and stop being so confrontational. Wise words.

Moms give advice; moms give blessings. Fans first met Mrs. Abigail Owuo, the mother of grime artist Stormzy, in his 2015 music video for “Know Me From,” where she jogs and dances in a tracksuit next to her son. In February, Stormzy released a song called “100 Bags” from his latest album, Gang Signs & Prayer, which opens with a voicemail message from his mom. Mrs. Owuo simply wishes her son a day full of blessings, assuming he is sleeping in late, hence missing her call — as all rappers, and all children, are wont to do. Rappers aren’t always the best-behaved children, but they parade their mothers on skits, on songs, and in the press, with no shortage of deference and affection. Stormzy is a mama’s boy.

And so is Drake. Kanye West is a mama’s boy, too, peace to the late Donda West. Pimp C was a mama’s boy, peace to the late Mama Wes. Honestly, there are few rappers worth listening to who aren’t self-avowed mama’s boys, the late 2Pac having perhaps been the biggest mama’s boy of all time. Even 50 Cent, who was raised by his grandmother and once famously refused to take out her garbage, is a mama’s boy. Many of these rappers were raised by their mothers or grandmothers, exclusively, and they rap about their matriarchs with a mix of rebellion and contrition. (The best rap song about rap dads is “Where Have You Been,” where Jay Z and Beanie Sigel take turns venting about their distant fathers.)

It’s only right and proper, then, that they should give their mothers the last word. Drake, a master propagandist of relatability, often invokes his parents (and his uncle, too), knowing that at this point his family life is the broader common ground, emotionally speaking, than his love life. Sandi Graham telling Drake to stop being so goddamn hostile all the time is way more relatable for me, personally, than whatever it is I’m supposed to feel when Drake raps about what’s-her-name from the Hooters on Peachtree.

All of these recent mom-core voicemails got me thinking back to 2001, an awfully dramatic year for hip-hop, as the rap beef between Jay Z and Nas escalated to the point of grave personal insults regarding children. Jay’s mom, Gloria Carter, and Nas’s musician father, Olu Dara Jones, would eventually lend their voices to their sons’ songs: Gloria on Jay’s “December 4th” in 2003, and Olu on Nas’s “Bridging the Gap” in 2004. Before most Jay Z fans ever heard Gloria’s voice, though, we knew her as the woman — the mother ex machina — who single-handedly halted the Jay-Nas beef by forcing her son to apologize for releasing the crude dis freestyle “Supa Ugly.” His mom was such a transcendent influence that she forced peak Jay Z to go on Hot 97 and apologize for invoking Nas’s daughter and disparaging his baby mother. “Mom put in a call,” Jay told Angie Martinez. My only complaint? He should’ve put that recording on The Black Album.