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November 14, 2007

Word to Ya Mama

Donda West has died. Or, translated to current press parlance, Kanye's lost his mama. Of course, the media's obsession with adopting cutesy or crass language is nothing new, but it can be exasperating. In memory of Kanye's late mama—whom he so extolled on Late Registration's, uh, "Hey Mama"—we've compiled a brief catalog of songs inspired by or created uniquely for the hip-hop mother.

But we haven't included treacly tracks like "Hey Mama" or 2Pac's "Dear Mama"; all of those "look-at-us-now" tropes are, substantively speaking, pretty much the same. The below, however, are not.

"Mama Said Knock you Out"
LL Cool J.

Though not expressly a tribute to his mother, in this classic battle jam an ordinarily libidinous Mr. Smith plays the model son, faithfully obeying a parental command to beat the hell out of your chump ass. ("Mama said knock you out…I'm gonna knock you out…") Still, we don't learn much about his old lady other than her deep preoccupation with settling things the old-fashioned way; her single directive is uttered with obsessive repetition for over one-third of the track.

"Kill You"

In prose reminiscent of a pink-hued Hallmark card stenciled with roses, Eminem fantasizes about raping and brutally murdering the female who birthed him in this hit single off The Marshall Mathers LP, one of the most violent and misogynistic albums of all-time. Even the Bates family seems well-adjusted after a listening or two of "Kill You," a fact not lost on Eminem, who invokes "Norman" just so he can mock the icon's lack of murderous imagination. Apparently this is what speaks to a generation:
Put your hands down bitch, I ain't gon' shoot you
I'ma pull you to this bullet, and put it through you
Shut up slut, you're causing too much chaos
Just bend over and take it like a slut, okay Ma?

"Ya Mama"
The Pharcyde

Backed by an irresistibly catchy hook, '90s alt-rappers The Pharcyde give playing the dozens new artistic life with 1991's "Ya Mama." In lieu of the standard, predictable slow-jam of tribute, the foursome instead opts to inform, dig by agonizing dig, as to why maybe Mom isn't No. 1. Reasons offered include a serious weight problem ("We rode up on her back to get some burgers from Wendy's and her skates went flat/I got stuck in her butt crack/They thought I was lost but I was caught by the G-strap") to lack of self-control ("The sad fact ya mama smokes crack/She got a burning yearning and there's no turning back") to issues with personal hygiene ("Naked on a mountain top, tootin on a flizoot/Ridin on a horse drinking whisky out a bizoot/She's got the wings and teeth of an african bat/Her middle name is Mudbone and on top of all that"). Beat that.

"December 4th"

The first full-length track on 2003's The Black Album isn't notable for much, if you consider cloying odes to be of note. No, "December 4th" is simple, in that it simply kicks ass. Instead of recounting the pitfalls born of "the game" we've all heard long before over a requisite '80s-imitating slow-funk beat (see Nelly's "Luven Me"), Jay's recognition of his mom transcends the self-pity so rife within this genre. The narrative spun between son and mother is compelling—and well-delivered—but it's the blessed departure from listlessness that makes this song, well, a Jay-Z song.

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