This can't be said of many things in hip-hop, but it was Ed O.G. who started it all. Well, he probably didn't start it—someone necessarily>"/>
This can't be said of many things in hip-hop, but it was Ed O.G. who started it all. Well, he probably didn't start it—someone necessarily had to come before him—but without him, rappers would be a lot less nice to their kids. After all, they're on the road all the time, doing ig'nant shit that just isn't fit for young eyes. But Ed O.G., nah, he had something bigger in mind. In 1991, he released "Be a Father to Your Child," from Life of a Kid in the Ghetto, his debut album with Da Bulldogs. Sure hip-hop was all consciousness and political awareness and revolution back then, but while what's personal is always political, the inverse isn't often true.
"It's not the presents/It's your presence and essence/Of being there, and showing the baby that you care," rapped Ed. It was about more than just taking responsibility for financial concerns; fatherhood is a many-splendored thing, Ed argued, and to let it slip through your fingers was just plain silly: "Don't front on your child when it's your own/Cause if you front now, then you'll regret it when it's grown."
Xzibit heard Ed O.G.'s challenge and did him one better on 1996's "The Foundation," from his own debut At the Speed of Life. Here, X raps directly to his son, advising him on how best to grow into his manhood: "Son, if you ever pull heat, then use it/If you got a chance to walk away, then do it." But it's not all testosterone-pumped rants. In fact, X is downright self-aware and vulnerable, reminiscing about "hospital hallway pacing/I was anxious as fuck to see your face shine/Only to find that yours looked like mine."
To his credit, X has kept up his on-wax affections. His forthcoming LP, Restless, features a follow-up to "The Foundation," entitled "Sorry I'm Away So Much." While X has been out on the road trying to ignite his hip-hop career, clearly his relationship with his son has suffered. It was a lot easier to be a father, apparently, when the kid couldn't talk back. But now it's X issuing apologies, not mandates: "I see you getting all upset when I'm leaving the house/Pouting/Let me tell you about tryna make it in this world and provide for you/On them overseas plane rides, I miss you too/Never knew that I would have to be away so much/$5000 phone bills, keeping in touch/We Starsky and Hutch/We partners for life."
It's never clear whether X's son feels his daddy's regrets, but it's certainly a noble attempt to keep those paternal bridges solid. It's not unlike Common's tradition of including a closing convocation by his father on each of his albums. His dad's rumbling, gravelly baritone wraps up the proceedings with folksy flair and a healthy dose of humanity, letting us into Common's secret emotional world.
Common's formula is given a stark update on the recent Jay-Z album, The Dynasty: Roc la Familia. "Where Have You Been" stands with the most incendiary material Jigga's ever committed to wax, as he and Beanie Sigel issue scathing condemnations to their long-absent fathers. Beanie's attack on his "abusive pops" is particularly moving. "We never kicked it at all/We never pitched or kicked at a ball," he laments, later excoriating his father for failing in his parental duties: "[You] left us with no goodbyes/You left us out to dry/You left us with no letters, notes, no replies/No digits, number was unlisted."
For his part, Jay-Z keeps an even mood during his dismissal, but his heart is just as wounded: "I would say, 'My daddy loves me and he'll never go away'/Bullshit, do you even remember December's my birthday?" At track's end, Jay flips the metaphorical bird at pops, finally secure in his financial and emotional stability: "Bought a nice home for both my sisters now/We doing real good/We don't miss you now."
Not everyone's as concerned with family ties. Jaheim's underground R&B anthem from fall, "Lil Nigga Ain't Mine," hinges on the stunningly defiant chorus: "No, the lil nigga ain't mine/What, you think a motherfucker blind?/He look just like Ginuwine/ I know he been tapping that spine/Could it be that nigga doing time/That got that stupid ass in a bind?" Followed by the standard he-said-she-said ripostes, it's really the chorus, lustily delivered, that cinches Ja's it-wasn't-me philosophy. Can a player get a DNA test?
Of course, if you're OutKast, you take care of the kid whether it's yours or not (though it probably is): "Private school, day care, shit, medical bills/I pay that," proclaims Big Boi on "Ms. Jackson," the duo's Prince-as-responsible-father track from their latest, Stankonia. They're fighting for respect, eager to break the stereotypes of black men as poor father figures. "Yes I will be present on the first day of school/And graduation," alerts Dre. So watch out Ms. Jackson: Andre 3000 and Big Boi are coming, and they're bringing Ed O.G.