Pharrell stands in the studio, laughing, as he retells stories from the days before there was fame or money; when The Neptunes made their music in the attic of Chad Hugo’s parents home. It wasn’t your regular, stuffy attic, but a fully carpeted bedroom with studio equipment. Pharrell vividly remembers the complaints about noise, the lectures about keeping it down for the sake of Chad’s mom who spent her nights working the graveyard shift, and he can even recall the expression that Chad’s dad wore when he burst into the room and saw Chad tussling with Tammy Lucas.
Gene Thornton, ½ of Clipse and better known as No Malice, also has memories of the attic. In an interview with Red Bull Music Academy, he reminiscence on the sessions full of laughter, recording demos, and how important Chad’s parents were to their success in music. They didn’t have connections in music, they couldn’t buy Chad’s way into the music industry, but they gave their son and his friends a sanctuary to make music.
“Everything was always done at Chad’s crib. I clearly remember how nurturing Chad’s parents were to what we were doing. Anytime we would come to their house, they would just open the door for us and let us upstairs. They knew what we were there for. This was before we earned any kind of money. It didn’t matter what time it was they would always welcome us, and they were always super cool. They were the epitome of a great support system for us. What they did was so crucial to us becoming who we are and the contributions we made to this music game” —Origin Stories: The Neptunes
Sometimes the best thing you can do for a creative person is to give them the space to create. It’s a small gesture but could be more important than any money or connections. Before Teddy Riley, before any big placements, it was Chad’s parents who were the silent benefactors who gave The Neptunes’ a chance to make it. Imagine how different things would be if Chad’s dad didn’t allow them to come back after the stupid fight? What If Chad’s hard-working mom decided to kick everyone out so she could have some peace and quiet? Could you blame her? There’s nothing pleasant about coming home after a long, grueling night shift to the sounds of banging instruments. Chad’s parents made a sacrifice, success wasn’t certain, it wasn’t something they could foresee, but by giving them the attic, they gave them a chance. A chance is all they needed.
Rico Wade’s mother is someone who can relate to Chad’s parents; she also opened up her home to give a few young men a chance to make music that would change their lives. Chad had the attic, Rico Wade created in the basement—no, he created in the dungeon. Organized Noize, Goodie Mob, and Outkast were all born in that Lakewood Terrace basement in the early ‘90s. Beats would be made, vocals would be laid, rhymes were written, weed was burned―this would go on from sunrise until the moon set. In The Art Of Organized Noize documentary, the group detailed how Rico’s mother would keep them fed and allowed unscheduled sleepovers for anyone who stayed too late to make it home. She was still working and taking care of her other children with all this madness happening in her home. The same home that would produce Goodie Mob’s Soul Food, Outkast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, and countless Organized Noize early classics. Without the hospitality of Rico’s mother, The Dungeon Family wouldn’t have a dungeon to be a family in. How can the south have something to say, without a place to say it? A simple, unselfish decision to support her son impacted hip-hop forever.
When J. Cole was 15 years old his mother bought him his first beat machine. It was an expensive purchase, so expensive that she had to put it on a layaway plan. J. Cole didn’t come from an abundance of money, and his mother was a postal worker, so receiving such a gift was a huge deal. Cole had rhymes, but he didn’t have beats, and that one machine changed everything. His mother supported his dream, and when things finally took off, Cole retired her from working. One of my favorite Cole lyrics is from the song “Cole Summer,” when he says, “And I told her quit her job, but hold your horses if my next album flops it’s back to the post office, both of us.” You can hear the very real fear that everything he has obtained could be gone tomorrow. Not only is he affected by his album not selling, but also the livelihood of his mother. A parent’s support makes you want to give back, but you would hate to fall off before they can truly enjoy the fruits of their sacrifice. Luckily, J. Cole doesn’t have to worry about his mother’s security anymore; I’m certain that Kay is enjoying retirement life.
Donda West saw the artist in her son. Call it mother’s intuition, but she knew there was a creative spirit buried deep inside Kanye. She went above and beyond to make sure his creative side was well nurtured. It was Donda West who connected a teenage Kanye with his mentor No I.D., and she was the one to drive him over to No I.D.’s home studio so that he could learn from the already established producer. Kanye the producer doesn’t happen without her willingness to surround him with inspirational forces. Donda was behind the wheel of the U-Haul truck that took Kanye from Chicago to New York after he was evicted from his apartment. All the art classes, all the music stores, all the industry events, all the traveling—Donda West had her hands in every facet of Kanye’s humble beginnings. From the old school music she played to encouraging her son never to bite his tongue, traces of his upbringing are prevalent in his music and personality. Donda wanted to see her son prosper as an artist, she saw that future for him and made sure he stayed on a creative path. When she passed, Kanye didn’t just lose a mother, he didn’t just lose a best friend, he lost the very backbone that helped him get to where he is today.
Her devotion to her only child was total. She would drive her teenage son to music stores so he could try out instruments and to the home studio of locally renowned producer No I.D. (a.k.a. Dion Wilson), where he learned his craft and met Common, the first major rap star out of Chicago. The connection was made by Donda, who used to play cards with No I.D.'s parents. "His whole life has been his keyboards, and his records and putting together money for more records or gear," Donda West told the Tribune in the weeks before her son's first album, "The College Dropout," was released in 2004. "I never had to worry about him wanting to go to some party or hang out in the streets. He was totally obsessed by music." —His mother, his muse
Kanye West signing Big Sean is the moment his life changed. Success didn’t come immediately, he had to wait years before the spotlight would shine upon him, but Sean is now one of the biggest rap artists in the world. What isn’t talked about too often is Sean’s life before Kanye. He rarely discusses that part of his life, but what he has mentioned in select interviews is how supportive his mom was of his dreams. Sean’s family didn't come from the most financially stable background, his mother was in debt, and got deeper in debt paying for his studio time and pressing up his early CD’s. She was digging herself a deeper hole in the hopes that her son could soar as a rapper. Not everyone believed in Sean, I’m sure the doubters outnumbered the supporters, but his mother never stopped believing. I wonder if her determination to see Sean succeed has anything to do with not fulfilling her own dream to be an actress? There was a time when she was studying alongside Denzel Washington in Los Angeles before Sean was born. Not achieving her deepest desire quite possibly fueled her to do all she could for her son to see his dreams come true. Her sacrifice paid off; now her son is in a position where debt isn’t a worry, money isn’t scarce, and she’s able to enjoy watching Sean fly. Clap for her.
"Sean’s mother also supported his music, going into debt to pay for studio time and getting CDs pressed and defending her son when teachers — his grandmother funded his private school education — tried to dissuade him." —Give It All to Me: Big Sean's Cover Story
The life of an artist doesn’t guarantee any form of success. You can try your entire life to “make it” in the creative field and only make enough money to buy a few happy meals from Ronald McDonald. I understand parents who push their children to seek opportunities in fields with more stability, but I also understand that those fields aren’t for everyone—they weren’t for me. That’s why we have to appreciate the parents who go the extra mile to do all they can in support of their children’s dreams. Those parents are the true unsung heroes of the music industry and all creative occupations. Chasing your dream is a little bit easier when there’s someone with a hand on your back pushing you to go further.
Be thankful if you have that encouragement, that support, that love.
By Yoh, aka Thank You Mom & Dad aka @Yoh31