There’s dad rap, and then there are rap dads. Navigating the world of fatherhood is tricky enough—just ask our editor-in-chief—but being a father and a professional recording artist at the same time is whole other beast.
Over the past two years, fatherhood and hip-hop have intersected on a regular basis, with 6LACK canceling his last tour in order to spend more time with his newborn, J. Cole centering an entire album around Black fatherhood, and Chance The Rapper crafting a GRAMMY-winning "mixtape" with his daughter squarely in mind.
All of these examples have led to some great material, but how does becoming a father change the creative process? Or hip-hop fandom, in general?
In an effort to answer these questions—and because who doesn't love to talk to rappers about their kids—we proudly present Rap Dads, a new series that aims to highlight the roller coaster ride that is trying to be a legendary parent and a legendary artist at the same damn time.
First up, we have a born-again XV, who recently announced his return to hip-hop. After his son was born in 2008, and following some major complications, Vizzy’s entire workflow changed—for the better. Where he was once loose in his process, being a father forced him to become more organized and better at managing his time. In fact, he affirms that there is a whole new level of creativity unlocked when you are no longer living for yourself.
Of course, music has also been instrumental in his connecting with his son. While XV admits he’s protective over what material his son hears, sharing music together has completely rewired XV’s understanding of the art form.
“The music that my son gravitates to changed my music taste completely because it made me realize the power of melody and how children will gravitate to feel-good and uplifting music without even understanding the lyrics,” he explains. “It just made me realize how powerful the frequencies and vibrations music have over us even as kids. Especially when it's something from the heart.”
The full transcript of our equally heartfelt interview with XV, which has been lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Tell me a bit about your son and your relationship.
XV: I have one kid, my son, and he was born in 2008, the same year I turned 23. His mother had complications early on and ended up having them at only 22 weeks. He was born a twin, but his brother passed away a month after they were born. As early as they were born neither of them should have survived, and my son should have had major complications, but he was blessed. He didn't get to come home from the hospital for about three months, so when he finally did, I spoiled him like crazy. Just because of all of the hardship he had endured for the first few months of his life. He got pretty much every toy he wanted those first few years. It's been hard weaning him off of that lifestyle, [laughs].
Aside from toys, what tunes do you put your son on to? Has sharing music together changed your music taste?
I'm always lowkey protective over the things my son hears and sees at an early age, so I would play only the classics around him growing up. Michael Jackson, The Jackson 5, Prince, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and of course hip-hop like Kanye West, the uplifting 2Pac, Macklemore, and myself. It's dope because when he was only six years old and watching movies like Shrek and Guardians of the Galaxy, he would be singing every word to the songs from the soundtracks like he grew up on them.
The music that my son gravitates to changed my music taste completely because it made me realize the power of melody and how children will gravitate to feel-good and uplifting music without even understanding the lyrics. It just made me realize how powerful the frequencies and vibrations music have over us even as kids. Especially when it's something from the heart. My son's favorite songs are all amazingly written records with great production like Kanye's "Power" or Macklemore's "Can't Hold Us," and even the rock songs he finds on his own now through YouTube.
How has being a father changed the way you create music?
Well, I had my son the year my music career started taking off, so I always think he was helpful in the change in my mindstate and my music. He made me realize who I was as a man, and the journey that I went through just having him and having to man up to the situation I was in helped me realize who I wanted to be as a man and that transcended into who I wanted to be as an artist. I also started grinding like no other, really trying to make it as an artist. I created my mixtape, Square in the Circle, the month he returned from the hospital. After that, I started working on my concept album, The Kid With the Green Backpack, and even did 80 songs with my 40 Days, 40 Nights series. So, he definitely triggered a work ethic that was in me that I never knew was there.
What was your process like prior to that?
It was a lot looser and free. Not in a good way, though. No schedules. No organization. No release dates. I was releasing music, a lot, but it didn't have the same direction that came after becoming a father. Being a young dude pursuing music without any responsibilities outside of himself and his own bills give you this freedom of self that sometimes can hold you back from figuring out who you are and what your purpose truly is. Not saying a child does that for everyone, but it definitely changed my writing. I was trying to be someone I wasn't in my music, I didn't care about repercussions of things I said in my music. I was like Peter Parker with the spider bite but Uncle Ben hadn't died yet. I needed that life-changing moment.
Would you say you’re a more organized creative now? Does that help the music?
Definitely more organized now. Even more so, since my son is in school and has his own schedule that I have to keep him on as a father. So it will help me organize studio dates and times. I'll fly out so I can still get to be part of his day. Depending on your priorities, it can help or hurt the music—I've learned that just from trying to learn how to balance it. I would feel overwhelmed when I'm in the midst of promoting or touring for a new project but I also want to enjoy all of the moments I can with my son.
Too many people feel like they'll get those times back or be able to create them when they want to, but that's not how it works. So I would have to say it helps the music have a certain style of rollout and release schedule which also helps an artist be able to balance his personal life. But if the artist creates better by having a more free lifestyle and schedule, then it can definitely have a negative effect as well.
How has fatherhood changed the way you approach the business side of music?
It made me start looking at music as an actual business. I've never been a money-driven person when it comes to creating music. But, I've always wanted to have my own record label so I've been reading and studying up on the business of music since I was 15 years old. It just made more sense when I had this other person that I said I would be responsible for.
What’s the best surprise that has come from being a father and an artist?
My son's school friends knowing my music, either from their parents showing them who I am or them looking me up because I do a lot of school events with my son and talk to kids at the school. It's amazing when they come up to me knowing my songs, and my son develops a sense of pride and confidence from that too so it's a great feeling.
Your daily routine changing from being a solo artist and free person to having to be this responsible, nurturing, intuitive father of a child that is watching what you do, not just what you say. It changes the way you move. I'm sure a lot of your favorite trapper rappers chose to take music seriously after having that responsibility hit them in the face.
Is there a level of creativity that becomes unlocked when you’re no longer living for just yourself?
I would say so, just because of my career and so many artists that I'm friends with have evolved creatively after that change in fatherhood happens, from JAY-Z to Wale to Wiz Khalifa. It also depends on the time that you became a father and the place you're at in your career. For some, when you're at a loss for creativity or feel like you don't have the inspiration to make new music, a change in your lifestyle can jolt that creativity. It definitely did that for me when I was 23.
I know you’ve got new music on the way. Has fatherhood directly influenced any of your forthcoming material?
Definitely, I started taking off in my career when he was born and now I'm seeing him turn 10 years old, I want him to understand and hear my growth just as much as my fans do now. He understands music completely different now that I've raised him with so much good music so I want to add to that catalog and give him classics of my own.