There’s something delightfully bizarre when searching for a song a particular musician recorded in tribute to his mother and finding the warning “(Explicit)” next to its title.
Yet that’s exactly what happens when you track down Snoop Dogg’s “I Love My Momma” on YouTube. And if a hip-hop star inextricably linked to drugs and girls and partying and raunchy content and explicit language offering up a well-meaning love letter to his mother seems odd, well, the truth is, it’s rather common. Kanye West, 2Pac, and Jay-Z are among the host of rappers who have done the same, trading lyrics about fast cars and popping bottles for tokens of appreciation for a mother’s hard work.
In honor of Mother’s Day, we rounded up some of the best rap songs paying homage to the No. 1 homey: mom.
Snoop Dogg: “I Love My Momma”
The most amusing part of Snoop Dogg/Lion/Tiger/Bear/Oh My/Whatever’s ode to his mother is that the track is actually mostly sung by another artist, with Snoop just repeatedly saying “I love my momma” in the background. But with lyrics like “Banging oldies in the livin room, sippin’ brew/Schlitz malt liquor and the thing back then/My momma was my homey, my daddy, and my best friend,” it’s hard not to be charmed by Snoop’s heartfelt ode—though the last bit of the song appears to be a wee bit (OK, a gargantuan bit) of a white lie. “You taught me about faith and hope/And never ever get hooked on dope.”
Ghostface Killah: “All That I Got Is You”
Just because your name is Ghostface Killah doesn't mean that you’re no mama’s boy. That what the rapper proves on “All That I Got Is You” as he waxes poetic on how hard his mother worked to raise him. He even enlists Mary J. Blige to croon an emotional bridge about how much he loves Mothah Killah. His final, existential ode: “I remember them good ole days/Because see, that’s the child I was/What made me the man I am today.”
2Pac: “Dear Mama”
As 2Pac’s own mother helpfully recaps while setting the scene in the opening moments to the “Dear Mama” music video, Afeni Shakur gave birth to he who would become Tupac just one month after being acquitted of charges of conspiracy against the government and released from jail. The passionate tribute track may not be the first hip-hop song to praise the hard work of a mother, but it may be the most influential. As LA Weekly notes, “It is considered to be one of the greatest hip-hop records of all time. It played in the background while God made love to the thunderbolt that birthed Tom Brady. It went to the Apple Store on Christmas Eve and got its iPhone fixed at the Genius Bar without having an appointment.” Basically, it’s just really good.
DMX: “I Miss You”
DMX might be one of the most aggressively terrifying people in the music business. But when he starts rapping about how much he misses his grandmother, he’s really just a cuddly Ruff Ryder teddy bear.
Jay-Z: “Momma Loves Me”
On this track of Blueprint, Jay raps his life, basically, chronicling everyone who’s helped him—“Hootie baby-sitted, changed my diapers”—and tried to bring him down—“police pursued me, chased, cuffed, and subdued me.” But through it all is Hova’s constant refrain: “Momma loved me.”
Kanye West: “Hey Mama”
“I wanna tell the whole world about a friend of mine/This little light of mine and I’m finna let it shine,” go the opening lyrics to Kanye West’s ballad off 2005’s Late Registration, which took on an even more heart-tugging meaning in 2007 when West’s mother, Donda, died from complications after cosmetic surgery. In tribute to his mother, West dutifully began performing live on his Glow in the Dark tour, though not making it past his intro of “This song is for my mother...” on his first live performance after her death. I dare you to make it through the above video of his 2008 Grammy performance of the track without shedding a tear.
Drake: “Look What You’ve Done”
“Look What You’ve Done” is more of a family tribute—the first verse is dedicated to Drake’s mother; the second to his uncle. But in his appreciation of his mother, Drake summarizes what every son feels for the woman who raised him. Talking about his success, he says, “And I finally send you to Rome/I get to make good on my promise/It all worked out, girl, we shoulda known/Cause you deserve it.” Really, though. When my record goes multiplatinum, get ready for your trip to Rome, mom. Because you do deserve it.