So many of today's greatest Rap artists come from mothers who had already established themselves in fields like education, art, music and charirt. In honor of Mothers Day, HipHopDX looked within the industry and identified these women and traced their accomplishments, along with some homage from their children.
“A woman’s worth
Is worth everything.”
-Evidence, “Rain or Shine”
Without a Dr. Donda West there would be no Kanye West. Without a Gloria Carter, there would be no Jay-Z. As curators, analysts, critics and fans of the culture, it’s only right to pay homage and respect where it’s due. This Sunday marks Mother’s Day so HipHopDX took time to celebrate the lives and hard work of notable mothers who have not only influenced Hip Hop culture but who’ve also impacted the world in other ways. Some have used their creative talents to affect others in various ways, others have been activists for social issues and others have been inspiring as educators. All have been special. By highlighting their achievements, we hoped to let them stand center stage and shine. We’re gonna talk about some moms now, if y’all don’t mind.
Dr. Donda West, Mother Of Kanye West
“See you're unbreakable, unmistakable
Highly capable, lady that's makin’ loot
A living legend too, just look at what heaven do
Sent us an angel and I thank you.”
-Kanye West, “Hey Mama”
One of the most celebrated mothers in Hip Hop, Dr. Donda West was the fuel behind much of her son Kanye’s rise to Rap stardom but she was also an inspirational figure on her own. When Kanye sang that he was “so proud” of his mother on “Hey Mama,” he had much to be proud of. Dr. West was an influential chairperson for Chicago State University’s English Department and a noted scholar for her work in education. She also taught for over 30 years, achieving success in the field while trying to inspire and shape young minds. She was also the recipient of many accolades for her work, a Fulbright Scholar, an author and, of course, a proud mother. “My mother told me go to school, get your doctorate, something to fall back on that you could profit with,” West once rhymed. “But [she] still supported me when I did the opposite.” Dr. West also worked as a co-manager for Kanye before her tragic passing in November of 2007. Since then, Kanye West has vowed to keep her memory alive. Last year, he created DONDA, a design company that he has said will “galvanize amazing thinkers.” It’s fitting if that’s the case, since it’s what she did throughout her life.
Jana Taylor, Mother Of Evidence
“I seen the sun come down
Reflection on the ground
That’s my mom shining down on me. I love you.”
-Evidence, “Chase the Clouds Away”
“Miss Taylor raised him,” Evidence proudly says on his song, “The Liner Notes.” Jana Taylor, Evidence’s mother, was an accomplished actress and photographer. She appeared on several television programs including a strong run with General Hospital. She then became known for her work as a photographer and educator, bringing art to inner-city schools. Perhaps it’s telling then that one of the most powerful and moving lines on Evidence’s 2007 Weatherman LP wasn’t a rhyme from the Venice veteran; it was a line spoken by his mother. “When I became a mother, I felt that if I continued acting, I wouldn’t be able to spend as much time with my son,” she explains on the outro to “I Still Love You,” showing the love and dedication that she had as a mother was perhaps the greatest joy she gave and received. Her accomplishments in various fields have also inspired Evidence in many ways. During a recent interview, Evidence shared how much he has been influenced by his mother’s work. “I’ve done a lot of things that emulate what she did with her career without even realizing it,” he explained. As he mentions in “Chase the Clouds Away” quote, that light that shines on Evidence remains strong.
Dr. Brenda Greene, Mother Of Talib Kweli
“Mama, can you hear me?
Mama, can you steer me in the right direction?
I’m your life’s reflection.”
-Talib Kweli, “Momma Can You Hear Me”
Talib Kweli’s mother, Dr. Brenda Greene, has been recognized for her work in education. As a professor of English, she’s been able to bring a love of language that almost certainly inspired her son, one of Hip Hop’s most critically acclaimed lyricists. Outside of the classroom, she has been a leader in the field as the Executive Director of the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York and as the Director of the National Black Writers Conference. All of this surely inspired Kweli on his route to becoming one of the most renowned lyricists in the Hip Hop classroom. On “Momma Can You Hear Me,” he explained that all of her guidance has been crucial for his success. “It wasn’t always easy, mama, but we still survived. Gotta take the time to say, ‘I love you,’ while you’re still alive.” It would seem she helped steer him in the right direction after all, and her career’s work shows she’s done the same for many more.
Elka Zolot, Mother Of Kreayshawn
“I grew up with my mom recording music. So recording music was just something that I naturally did.”
-Kreayshawn, HipHopDX Interview
It’s no wonder Kreayshawn chose the microphone as her instrument of choice. The “Oakland representer” was undoubtedly inspired by her mother’s career in music. Kreay’s mom, Elka Zolot was part of The Trashwomen, a Surf Punk band that toured through different continents. Zolot has also worked as a singer, writer and guitarist, juggling several roles as an artist throughout her career. Her daughter Kreayshawn has made a name for herself by also holding different responsibilities in her own career. She has directed videos and has shown a passion for photography. Her mom no doubt inspired this passion for artistic expression.
Roberta Shields, Mother Of Ludacris
“Pop, I never went and jumped the broom, never got that one degree
But if you looked down from heaven, you'd still be proud of me
Your son was DUI, but my mama made it by.”
-Ludacris, “Hard Times”
Though life may have included some “hard times,” Ludacris and his mother “made it by” and eventually made it to success. Today, they are working together to help others do the same. Luda’s mother, Roberta Shields, presently runs the Ludacris Foundation, a non-profit organization whose focus is on giving back. Before taking on this role, Shields worked in finance for approximately 20 years. That experience has also helped her become the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer of Bridges Enterprises, helping take care of Luda’s finances and more, ensuring that those “hard times” remain in the past.
Sathima Bea Benjamin, Mother Of Jean Grae
“I think my biggest influence would have to be my mom who gave me books and taught me how to read at a really early age.” – Jean Grae
Beyond influencing Jean Grae’s love of literacy, her mother Sathima Bea Benjamin is also an accomplished musician. Her work as a composer and vocalist has been celebrated for years. She has recorded with the likes of Duke Ellington and released several projects throughout her career. Benjamin also started a record label, received a Grammy nomination and amassed critical acclaim for her releases. So when Jean says her “biggest influence” is her mother, it could be for more reasons than just the love of literacy that she promoted. In 2008, Grae spoke about her mother in a press release, explaining how deep her influence has been. “This woman is a force and the reason I do what I do,” she explained in the press release for a show she did with her mother that year. “The only reason I exist and the music that I make exists."
Sheron “Umi” Smith, Mother Of Yasiin Bey (FKA Mos Def)
“I was a young boy who dreamt about being a big man
On small loose-leaf sheets, I sketched a big plan
Gotta handle business properly, boost up my economy
Store it up and get my mom some waterfront property.”
-Yasiin Bey, “Know That”
While a young Yasiin was dreaming of purchasing his mother “some waterfront property,” she was telling him to shine his light for the world to see. Today, Sheron Smith, Bey’s mother, is telling others to do the same. She has written a book, Shine Your Light, a workbook for young dreamers and the like, hoping to inspire others the way she did with her son. Smith has also worked in other areas, where she has also had success. She is presently an entertainment manager, a script supervisor, a producer and a motivational speaker.
Jo Wilkinson, Mother Of Eligh
“How could I thank my mom
For the way she tried to keep my fears away?
She cried when I spent years astray.”
-Eligh, “Teach Me the Way”
Eligh’s mom, Jo Wilkinson, has been instrumental to Eligh’s success as a lyricist. Wilkinson is a musician in her own right, one who has obtained acclaim as a Folk artist. She has shared the stage with the likes of Pete Seeger but she’s also been greeted to the stage by Hip Hop fans. In 2009, Wilkinson and her son bonded over the creation of On Sacred Ground: Mother & Son, a special release for both artists. Their collaborative album featured Atmosphere’s Slug, Pigeon John and The Grouch, among others, allowing Jo Wilkinson to feel the love from Hip Hop fans too. "One of the greatest joys of my life was touring with my son and being welcomed and embraced by thousands of Hip Hop fans," she said in a press release for that album. Whether blending Folk with Hip Hop with her son or working as a solo musician, Jo Wilkinson’s influence continues to teach the way for many listeners.
Dr. Mahalia A. Hines, Mother Of Common
“I woke up this morning thinking about you and how much you mean to my life. I thank God so much for you, Ma. I know I would not have been able to pursue my dreams – or even see them – I would not have been able to love so freely and purely if you had not been there for me.”
-Common, One Day It’ll All Make Sense [Book]
In his recently released book, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, Common shares this deep appreciation for his mother. In it, the Chicago emcee thanks her for helping him pursue his dreams. However, he’s likely not the only person who feels this way about Dr. Hines, an experienced educator who has served Chicago public schools for over 30 years. As a teacher, she worked to inspire and educate young minds, something she would continue doing as a principal. Since retiring from her work as an administrator, Dr. Hines has been an integral part of Common’s career, becoming his business manager and more. She has used her extensive experience and knowledge in education to help Common write engaging children’s books and to assist with her son’s Common Ground Foundation. Whether it has been through education or through her charitable efforts, she has made dreamers and believers out of many.
Gloria Carter, Mother Of Jay-Z
“Give all glory to Gloria
They said, ‘You raised that boy too fast’
But you was raising a warrior
-Jay-Z, “The Joy”
Listening to Jay-Z’s “December 4th” may showcase some of the affection shared between Shawn Carter and his mother Gloria. That fondness has allowed them to join forces to help others. As a result, Gloria Carter is the Chief Executive Officer of the Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation, which they began together in 2002. On her end, Gloria Carter has been the recipient of several awards for her work with the foundation, which she started in order to help students who were underserved. Her efforts have not stopped there. She has also been awarded honors for her work in helping displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina and more. Through her work in charitable events, she has also provided opportunities for her son to give back. Just last year for instance, she and her son teamed up for a lavish carnival themed charitable event and two (much talked about) Jay-Z performances at Carnegie Hall, which benefitted the Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation. On the aforementioned “December 4th,” Gloria Carter shares that she knew her son was “special” from the moment she gave birth to him. Through her own charitable efforts, she has given special gifts of her own to many others.
Afeni Shakur, Mother Of Tupac
“When I was low you was there for me
And never left me alone because you cared for me
And I could see you coming home after work late
You're in the kitchen trying to fix us a hot plate
You just workin’ with the scraps you was given
And mama made miracles every Thanksgivin’
…And there's no way I can pay you back
But my plan is to show you that I understand
You are appreciated.”
-Tupac, “Dear Mama”
When Tupac released the vividly candid and personal “Dear Mama,” it resonated with millions of listeners. The person he wrote it about, Afeni Shakur, has also done the same, reaching many people in different ways. She has been an activist, a leader in the Black Panther movement and a community events organizer. Afeni’s influence on Tupac has been undeniable, as it has permeated much of the late great’s work. “Ain’t a woman alive that could take my mama’s place,” he proudly declared on the aforementioned track. Since her son’s untimely death, Afeni Shakur has worked hard on the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, a charitable organization and Amaru Entertainment, the home for unreleased Tupac material. Through her own trials and tribulation, Afeni Shakur has managed to keep her head up, leading many to understand why Tupac appreciated his mother so dearly.
Andres Vasquez has been contributing to HipHopDX as a staff writer for over a decade. He is also an educator and youth-leader. He is based in Los Angeles, California. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndresWrites.