For as long as there have been parents, kids, and music, once-cool parents have struggled to teach unappreciative kids about truly great music. You, however, are playing out this age-old struggle at a very unique moment. The entire genre of hip-hop has grown up right alongside you, and is even more popular today than it was when you were rooting through stacks of CDs for ‘Parental Advisory’ stickers. To wit: NWA are in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, something called “Kid-Hop” exists (and is actually pretty great), and Snoop Dogg is a damn grandpa.
These days, you and your kid might equally covet the next highly anticipated mixtape, and dad turning up the classics might not send the entire soccer team diving from a moving minivan to escape. That’s been the experience of hip-hop historian Jeff Chang, author of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation and father to a 19-year-old with whom he shares all his favorite music. Chang helped explain how things got here, where they might be headed, and how Ice Cube is just a gangster-ass Cat Stevens.
You know who didn’t vibe to classic hip-hop with their fathers? Hip-hop’s founding fathers. During the genre’s late-80s through mid-90s “Golden Age,” absentee fathers were a recurring theme. On “They Reminisce Over You,” Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth state, “My biological didn’t bother.” On “Dear Mama,” 2Pac laments his uncertainty about his father’s identity, something that haunted him his whole life. And WC, of the Maad Circle and later Ice Cube’s Westside Connection, gets right to the point with a song simply titled “F— My Daddy.”
Absent strong father figures, the angry young men of hip-hop made role models out of iconoclasts like Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, and Huey Newton. These men became symbols of masculine strength and pride in an emerging musical genre that was all about rebellion.
Truthfully I Wanna Rhyme Like Common Sense
As the 90s progressed, hip-hop became more reflective and thoughtful. On Resurrection, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, and Like Water For Chocolate, Common gives the final track to his father, Lonnie “Pops” Lynn. On Illmatic’s “Life’s A Bitch,” Nas features his father, famed jazzman Olu Dara. “You have this generation attempting to reflect more on what they’re inheriting from their folks and what they’re passing on,” Chang says. “The elders are revered for the stability and creativity and power they’ve been able to generate.”
Nothing gets a guy thinking about his own father like becoming a father himself. On the De La Soul track “I Am I Be” from 1993’s Buhloone Mindstate, an introspective Posdnous raps about his parents and name checks his new daughter. This is hip-hop’s “Oh shit, I have a kid” moment or, as Chang more eloquently puts it: “These young folks are reflecting on the responsibilities of fatherhood and juggling them with this wild youth, rebellious music in which almost everything is framed as a refusal. Now you’ve got a baby and you’ve got to say, ‘Yes.’ ‘Yes, I’ll feed you. Yes, I’ll clothe you. Yes, I’ll put you to bed.’ And you see that shift happening in the music.”
From Rebels To Role Models
Essentially, rappers evolved from popping to “Planet Rock” to overturning cop cars and occupying college administration buildings to putting food on the table for their children — and so did the fans who’d made heroes of them. Which is why it somehow didn’t phase anybody when Ice Cube went from “F— Tha Police” to Are We There Yet? in less than 20 years.
“Cube perfectly represents that moment,” Chang says. “Here’s Cube at 19 years old saying, ‘To a kid looking up to me, life ain’t nothin’ but bitches and money,’ and now suddenly he’s a daddy role model? He’s been a monogamous dad for longer than any of the guys in NWA.” Cube and his wife, Kimberly Woodruff, have had 4 kids since they wed in 1992. The oldest, Oshea, Jr., played his father in the NWA biopic, Straight Outta Compton, which is as close as there’s ever been to a “Father And Son” moment in hip-hop. “To hear [Oshea, Jr.] talking about his dad with so much affection and love — that was dope. I was moved,” Chang recalls. “That kind of thing makes you happy to have lived for as long as you have. It’s beautiful.”
Watch Dad’s Throne
Chang isn’t suggesting that hip-hop’s biggest stars mellowed — he’s studied this stuff long enough to know better than to start beef. Rather, he submits that all the attention paid to parenting issues suggests yet another kind of rebellion.
“The way to rebel against growing up without a father is to insist that you’re gonna be the best dad ever.”
“From Ice Cube to now Jay Z and Kanye, all these guys have been very open about being fathers and showing that they’re there for their kids,” he says. “If you grow up in a household in which you don’t have a father, the natural way to rebel against that is to insist that you’re gonna be the best, most responsible dad you could ever be. There’s a generational critique at work.” Hear that? You’re not just changing diapers — you’re rebelling! You’re pretty much on a ultralight beam.
Word Is Bond
As hip-hop evolves, so too will the fatherhood conversation. Kendrick Lamar’s father features heavily on good kid, m.A.A.d city, and on To Pimp A Butterfly’s “Mortal Man,” K-Dot “interviews” Tupac Shakur, seeking guidance from previous generations. But Kendrick doesn’t have kids of his own yet, and hip-hop has always been about the artists’ personal experiences.
“Hip-hop has shown us this diversity of black lives,” says Chang. “You have songs where there’s a lot of anger towards the absent father, records in which people are looking for iconic images of father figures, and now rappers becoming fathers — but they’re talking about that just like they would anything else because it was part of their lives.”
“[My son and I] have a bond because of hip hop,” Chang says. “If my dad ever turned on some music in the car, I would just be, ‘Oh my god, I’m gonna die. Shut it down for however long we have to drive.’ These days, my kid could put on his music or I could put on my music and we’ll all be vibing to it. It’s ill. It’s crazy.” That means “Good,” by the way. But you already knew that.
Bump the greatest hits of some of your favorite hip-hop fathers with this playlist.