One of my favorite album covers of 2016 is Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book. The vibrant orange, red and blue hues give it the same radiance of a Vincent van Gogh portrait. Intoxicating colors are a trademark of Chance artwork, fitting of his jubilant personality, but what makes the art more charming than his previous covers is his expression—a face that captures joy at it’s most pure.
He seems angelic, glowing, with his trademark hat as his halo. When the concept was revealed, how the cover represents a father holding his daughter, the joy upon his face became more serene. Without knowing, Chance The Rapper was no longer the rapper that we once knew, but a new man who, without showing us his baby, was able to capture the beauty of fatherhood.
J. Cole, Wale, Donald Glover and Chance The Rapper all entered into the fatherhood chapter of their lives this year. What all four artists have in common are backgrounds that don't include growing up with rappers in their homes. There was a time where the very lives they live now was only a dream job, rather than a real profession. Their children will be raised differently, not only financially stable but able to see the world through a unique perspective.
I wonder how the mind of a celebrity child is shaped, how seeing the world through that lens impacts their growth. Blue Ivy and North West are the offspring of some of the most famous people in the entire world, they will grow up completely differently than nearly all of us. They could grow up to walk in the footsteps of superstars, or they could just be modest young women who would rather not live in the spotlight. They can hide from fame, but they’ll never cease to be famous, it's a life that chose them and not vice versa.
It’s possible to escape fame, I think of Eminem’s daughter Hailie and how she has been able to live below the radar for most of her life. She’s proof that you can grow up away from the cameras, able to live a fairly normal life despite having a famous father. J. Cole, Gambino, Chance, and Wale all seem to want some kind of secrecy, keeping a wall of privacy around their personal lives. I don’t see that changing anytime soon; they may be celebrities, but they’re moving like protective fathers.
J. Cole being a father takes me back to “Breakdown,” one of the most heartfelt songs that you’ll find in his catalog of music. In the first verse, he walks listeners through the turbulent relationship that he has with his father, a man who spent most of his life passing through, more absent than present. On this roller coaster of emotions, he wrestles with the frustrations of a void that was never filled, like a scar that has yet to heal. When you hear how he talks about his daughter on “She’s Mine, Pt. 2,” it’s the voice of a man who has found a treasure that he’ll cherish for the rest of his lifetime. It’s poetic when you think about the same man who wanted his father in his life taking time away from touring and music to be there for his daughter—Cole is a family man more than a rolling stone. 4 Your Eyez Only parallels the lives of J. Cole and James McMillian, Jr., one a successful rapper and the other a drug dealer, but what the two have in common is undying love and affection for their two daughters. It’s the bigger theme that ties the entire album together—no matter your path in life, being a loving father is most important.
Maturity is pumping in the very veins of 4 Your Eyez Only, "Awaken, My Love!" and Coloring Book. Each project shows growth not only in the music but in the very artists themselves. The more I listen to "Awaken, My Love!", the more I see it as an album made just for his son. “Keep all your dreams, keep standing tall,” he sings on the final song, a beautiful message to his newborn. It's about inner strength, perseverance and the importance of being daring enough to dream.
Instead of rapping, Gambino created a soul album that’s largely inspired by the funk albums that his father would play during his childhood. That music made him feel, and he sought to give that experience to listeners. I still get chills listening to him beg the mother not to take his son away on “Baby Boy.” Donald has never created anything with this amount of raw passion. On an album for his son, he used the music passed down by his father. It’s almost like using music as a form of inheritance—lessons from Donald Sr. passed down through the music of Donald Jr.
It’s no coincidence that Coloring Book is deeply inspired by gospel music, it’s music born from the defeat of an addiction to Xanax and the rewarding birth of a new child. Coloring Book is a celebration of blessings, bathing in the ultra-light beam of success, and appreciating the brighter sides of life. J. Cole says, “God is real” at the sight of his daughter, a sentiment that Chance builds his entire album around. They both made albums dedicated to displaying their love for the person they helped bring into this world.
Wale’s Summer On Sunset does a great job detailing his move to Los Angeles, a change of scenery that ends by revealing a pregnancy, another big change in his life. All of his recent releases have all been stellar—he seems more focused than ever. I'm positive his daughter has influenced his inspiration and will play a major role on his forthcoming album Shine.
Growth and maturity are both necessary in hip-hop. Fatherhood can change you for the better—it changes your priorities and affects your perception on what matters. Rap can be juvenile, more of a locker room than a library, but that perspective is perfectly fine when balanced by an outlook more grown-up and sophisticated.
When ScHoolboy Q was on tour for Blank Face LP he made it clear that his daughter is the reason he considered an early retirement from rap. She is the crown jewel of his life, the center of why he creates. J. Cole might state a similar sentiment in the coming years. His daughter is the apple of his eye, there's no doubt they'll be inseparable. The same goes for Wale, I believe his daughter will matter more to him than any lists or accolades. The music he’s been releasing shows he’s growing up, more so than ever before. Chance is doing his part to help build a better Chicago; a place his daughter can proudly call home. I’m sure his tireless work ethic is fueled by her. Donald is a creative who is channeling this new role in life through his art—Atlanta and "Awaken, My Love!" both showcase fatherhood.
I find it sad that Tupac never got a chance to have a child, or how Biggie died before seeing his children grow up. Looking back on all our legends who went too soon, it's necessary that the leaders of this new school are around to watch their children grow in a world that's been moved by their music.
It’s refreshing seeing how fatherhood is reshaping these four artists. It seems rare that we have four high-profile rap artists all beginning this period at nearly the exact same time. A doctor weighs your child after exiting the womb, they'll give you the exact number in pounds and ounces, but no scale can truly capture the weight of a child—the weight of having to care for, teach, and raise this little bundle of innocence.
I think of Atlas, the Greek God who carried the world on his back as an image of what’s it like the day you become a father, the weight of another life straddled to your back. Not only are they fathers, but they’re rap dads, able to provide food and shelter for their newborn through art and music in the name of hip-hop.
By Yoh, aka Notorious Y.O.H, aka @Yoh31