It’s no secret that rappers love their mamas. Dedicating a song to one’s mom is a classic hip-hop move, made iconic by 2pac in the ‘90s and remaining a staple in an artist’s catalog to this day.
The “Mama Song” is a way to show a rapper’s roots and their rawest emotions, and make even the toughest gangsters relatable on a basic human level.
We’ve combed through every mother-loving hip-hop song out there to highlight the best of the best. Put these on for mama on Sunday.
10. JAY-Z — “December 4th” (2003)
Jay gets props for giving his mom the most vocals in a Mama Song ever. While a mother’s voice is often included as a voicemail in an outro, Jay’s mother Gloria Carter gets to speak between each of the verses on “December 4th.” Carter gives her own perspective and voices her feelings as she tells us how Shawn was the only one of her four children who didn’t give her any pain when he was born, how she knew he was special, and when she bought him the boombox that changed his life. Jay has several other songs centered around his mama, including “I Made It” (2006) and “Blueprint (Momma loves me)” (2001), though none as immediately recognizable and notable as this Black Album standout. “December 4th” is great, but ultimately loses points because while his mom is certainly very present, the song is really about Jay and his own accomplishments.
9. Rick Ross — “Smile Mama, Smile” ft. CeeLo Green (2015)
It’s a common theme in Mama Songs for rappers to find themselves in the depths of their self-destruction and look to the purest person in their life, Mama, to take them away from the darkness. On this Jake One-produced effort from 2015’s Black Market, Ross raps about waking up from a 2011 seizure to see his mother smile and tell him to quit the lean, which he inevitably did along with shedding 100 pounds. Ross then reflects on how his mother has been the only person who was really there for him in his life, with especially powerful lines like “Who really gonna be your shoulder when your kidneys gone?” He also channels 2pac in calling his mother a “black queen” with a nod to the legend’s “Dear Mama.”
CeeLo (in one of two appearances on this list) takes the song to a Mother’s Day mimosa level of sweetness with his pleading hook and outro.
8. Chance The Rapper — “Hey Ma” (2012)
On the last track from Chance’s debut mixtape, 10 Day, the then-18-year-old finishes angrily rapping about getting suspended from school and threatening to stab people with screwdrivers to make a sweet, laid-back Mama Song. He dedicates “Hey Ma” to all the mothers who helped raise him in Chicago, including Ms. Brown and Ms. Pollock, the two women who watched him after school and fed him chicken nuggets. This is one of our earliest looks into just how loving and positive Chance can be. We see a similar sentiment later in “Sunday Candy,” another incredible familial ode for his grandmother.
7. Drake — “Look What You’ve Done” (2011)
Drake is one of the biggest mama’s boys in the game, but his Mama Songs aren’t all warm hugs and kisses. “Look What You’ve Done” is his tribute to Sandi Graham, as well as his grandmother and uncle. Drake doesn’t just describe his ups and downs with his mom as “I was bad but you loved me anyway and now I can buy you a house.” He talks about how her poor health and his fame put intense stress on their relationship.
You can’t deny the power in these lines:
“And your back hurt and your neck hurt / And you smoking heavy / And I sit next to you and I lecture you / Because those are deadly / And then you ash it and we argue / About spending money on bullshit / And you tell me I’m just like my father / My one button, you push it / Now it's, "Fuck you, I hate you, I'll move out in a heartbeat!" / And I leave out and you call me, you tell me that you sorry / You love me and I love you.”
Drake may be one of the few rappers with a Mama Song like “Look What You’ve Done,” but he’s not alone. Eminem is obviously the first rapper that comes to mind when we think mommy issues, and Logic has also rapped about how his mother choked him and called him a n*gger as a child. But Drake doesn’t have to rap about raping his mom or telling her he'll never go to her funeral for listeners to understand that he and Sandi have a loving, yet complicated relationship. Before Drake’s rap career blew up, he faced the challenges of caring for Sandi while she fought (and still continues to fight) rheumatoid arthritis. Her poor smoking and spending habits fueled their arguments. Drake isn’t afraid to talk about how ugly those got, mentioning multiple times how his mom has threatened and tried to run away from home. In the end, though, Sandi and Drake always end up in each other’s arms.
6. Ghostface Killah — “All That I Got Is You” ft. Mary J. Blige (1996)
Ghostface was one of the first rappers to make a heartfelt ballad for his mother—now practically a necessity for every rapper—and have it become enormously popular. On “All That I Got Is You,” he spits about how hard he had it growing up. The Wu-Tang emcee's poverty was extreme, rapping “Seven o'clock, pluckin' roaches out the cereal box,” and describes having to ask his friends’ families for food using newspaper as toilet paper. Instead of getting angry or upset that his mother couldn’t provide more for him, he hangs onto her love as the only thing he’s ever had. The song has a desperate lovingness to it, which, when combined with RZA's piano keys and Mary J. Blige’s timeless hook—“All that I got is you / And I’m so thankful we made it through”—make the song a classic.
5. Goodie Mob — “Guess Who” (1995)
Another OG Mama Song, Big Gipp, Khujo, T-Mo, and CeeLo similarly rap about having practically nothing but their mothers growing up, but they spit much harder than Ghostface on “All That I Got is You.” The Atlanta group wasn't trying to pluck your heartstrings, they were just telling you the stark reality of how they grew up. CeeLo has the standout verse, rapping about how a car accident left his mother paralyzed and how doctors thought she might never speak again. The verse takes on even more emotional weight since the album—the Mob's acclaimed debut Soul Food—is dedicated to the memory of CeeLo's mother, Sheila J. Tyler-Calloway.
Like Drake, they’ve all got messy relationships with their moms—Khujo starts the song with the lines “You 'bout to make me slam yo' back clean out, But I luv her till death do us part”—but in the end, who was the only one there for them? Mama.
4. Beanie Sigel — “Mom Praying” ft. Scarface (2001)
Sampling The Dramatics' “It Ain’t Rainin' (On Nobody’s House But Mine)” made this song infectious, but Scarface’s verse is debatably one of the most emotional of all time:
“I'm never gon' forget that, look in your eyes, when you told me that my grandfather died / It was like nothing had happened, and I'm knowin that you miss him / But to accept death, is just the side of a good Christian.”
Scarface comes to accept death as a part of life and grapples with believing in God. He comes to understand the extreme loneliness of loss: “Cuz I'm knowin I can't make it alone / You told me not to buy you a new house because in Heaven's your home.” Him coming to grips with her insistence that there's no sense in him buying her a new home ("And as hurt as I was, I had to smile witcha") is heartbreaking.
For Beanie, the song is a testament to how far he’d go to protect his mother and grandmother, and just how much he adores them. He’s still the Broad Street Bully—he'll literally decapitate anyone who threatens to hurt the two most important women in his life—but more importantly he's a loving son and grandson, in the same verse rapping “What can I do but bow down and give offerings / For the lady with the softest skin / Keep picturin' Grams tuckin' me in.”
3. Nas — “Dance” (2002)
While several rappers have covered the sadness of losing their mothers, none have reached the heartbreak Nas injects into the hook on "Dance": “Praying, wishing that I could have / One more dance with you, Momma / If I could only have…” Over the production work of Chucky Thompson, Nas' winds down the end of every chorus line, allowing listeners to feel the heart-wrenching regret of never being able to see the person who loved you most.
Only months before the release of God's Son, Nas' mother passed away—in his arms—after a three-year battle with breast cancer. You can hear the desperation as he voices the fact that he misses her more with ever second he breathes and that he’d give up his life just to see her one more time. Yet, “Dance” has an upbeat tone. You feel Nas’ sadness, but you also feel how much love he had for his mother in lines like “A blessing to me, I see you dressed in all white / Smiling at me, happy knowing everything's all right.”
2. 2Pac — “Dear Mama”
The most iconic Mama Song of all time. In 1971, Tupac’s mother Afeni Shakur represented herself on trial during her entire pregnancy—facing a 300-year jail sentence for accusations relating to her participation in the Black Panthers. A month after she was acquitted, Tupac was born. Lines like “And even as a crack fiend, Mama / You always was a black queen, Mama” and “There's no way I can pay you back, but my plan / Is to show you that I understand; you are appreciated” made “Dear Mama” the quintessential Mama Song and one of the most endearing rap songs ever. Afeni Shakur was the Queen of all rap mamas, and her son’s record is the third hip-hop song ever to be selected for preservation in the Library of Congress.
Now, keep those Twitter fingers by your side about "Dear Mama" not being number one...
1. Kanye West - “Hey Mama” (2008 GRAMMY Remix)
The original album version of “Hey Mama” that Kanye put on Late Registration in 2005 would have made this list somewhere in the middle. When Kanye premiered the song in front of his mom on Oprah it was cute. Show attendees were full of smiles. Oprah clapped along with the crowd as Donda West beamed, watching her son sing to him.
When Donda passed away suddenly in 2007, the loss changed Kanye forever.
Following her death was when his real mental health struggles began, and when his music became a cry for help. A week after the death of his mother, Kanye attempted to perform “Hey Mama” in Paris, but broke down in tears and quickly ended the concert, despite encouragement from the crowd. Parisian journalist Meddy Magloire recalled, “He kept shouting out to the audience, ’I need you … I need you right now.’”
Just three months later, Kanye took the stage at the 2008 GRAMMYs and turned “Hey Mama” into one of the most powerful hip-hop performances of all time. He added verses and strings in the background, shakily singing, "Last night I saw you in my dreams / Now I can't wait to go to sleep ... This life, this here, this Grammys, all of this is all a dream/ My real life, it starts when I go to sleep." The power and tremor in his voice transformed original lines, “As we knelt on the kitchen floor / I said Mommy I'ma love you till you don't hurt no more,” from a cute, joyous ode to his mother to a chill-inducing experience.
I cry every fucking time. Don’t @ me.