Family and friends always play an important role in our lives, whether in childhood or adulthood, they will teach us things that remind us of the good and bad we can do. What we do with that knowledge is crucial, for many reasons. The least of which is that, from a young age, these are the people who know us best. They are the ones who see us as we are, and this self-knowledge is vital when you consider that rap is a genre replete with exaggeration, with putting on, with fronting. You can’t really do any of that with your fam, it’s just not gonna happen.
The role of familial connections are a vital one in the rap world for this reason and others. Hearing life lessons or words of advice, even just the voice of a dead relative, can mean everything to us. I (Clayton) remember as a kid, listening to a voicemail my dad left my mum shortly before he died and how strong of an impression this left on me, I could visualize him again, could interact with him, to a degree. They can be great words of wisdom the listener will carry with them forever, or in my dad’s case a message about picking up my brother from camp. They can be reminders that our family and friends in some cases are all we have. They can show us that our very real actions have consequences. And sometimes, they’ll just be a hilarious quote waiting to be brought up in a conversation.
There’s something to be said about when friends and family appear in the music we listen to. Most times, though not physically there for the music creating process, they can add such an important level of humanity to the music. They are very real reminders that our favourite musicians have real lives and families that are affected by their music and actions inside and outside the recording studio. Whether it’s your brother telling you he’ll see you at the next family gathering, your grandmother asking you to call/visit her more, or just an ex bae reminding you that they’re doing way better without you/want you back/are glad things ended well, it can all bring a healthy level of realism to the music we engage with.
Hearing Drake sample and incorporate an old gfs phone call into his iconic “Marvins Room” fills a room (or your headphones) with a sensation of reality and depth that would be very different without it, we understand more of the world that Drake exists in on Take Care. We see how Drake’s life is pitched and rolled by fame. His love life on display for everyone, as he is.
Kendrick Lamar’s mother appears on “Real” telling her son to tell his story to the kids of Compton. This sets the tone and ties the album together as he spends Good Kid M.a.a.d. City‘s length telling of a night in his life. Specifically, her use of the word hope, gives us an idea of what Kendrick is leaving. He invites us into Compton, his view of it, and when he leaves, he crafts an album detailing life there. It’s this same home that he later leaves and returns to to complete his acclaimed album To Pimp A Butterfly. Without his mom, though, Kendrick’s world would’ve been different. Part of making a song is connecting with your listeners and everyone’s got a mom. Maybe not a biological one, maybe it’s your older sister, maybe an aunt, but everyone can connect with that.
Chance The Rapper closes his mixtape Acid Rap with “Everything’s Good (Good Ass Outro).” The song begins with his father telling him how proud he is of his son and all the work he’s put into his music career, and Chance spends the song reminiscing on his life and exclaim that throughout all the ups and downs that everything is good (little did anyone know how good it would end up getting).
Maxo Kream is a recent addition to this family-infused style of hip-hop with his 2019 album Brandon Banks. On it, he tells of his adolescence, his fuck-ups and how his father shaped him. Kream’s dad used the name Brandon Banks for grifts and things of that nature. This both supported his family and traumatized it – Kream’s dad went to jail in his childhood. This led Kream to seek out ways to support himself and led him to the same destination as his father until he started rapping.
This list could go on and on and on. There’s countless tweets and memes about starting to use voicemail again just so a rapper will feature you on their album. Frank Ocean’s done it notably, using a voicemail from a friend’s mom on “Be Yourself” which stressed not using drugs. Taken separately, these inclusions seem almost to suggest individual fallibility, to suggest that these rappers are just like us. They seem almost like an attempt at being cute. But, when you consider them as a trend it becomes pretty clear that family is important. That the people who saw you in diapers are the people who will see you in the grave, the people who fed you are the ones you will in-turn feed when they are too old. These voicemails are symbols of a cycle that indicates how human we all are. We all face this shit, we all go through these things daily. And we are all loved, and we are all cherished. They remind us of who we are, when all the bullshit is stripped away. And as we’ve said a billion times, that is what good art should do.
Anfernee “Where my Bible at” Cadogan and Clayton Tomlinson