Gift rapped

18 Jan

In an age when family life and rap music are often seen to go together about as well as the proverbial fish and bicycles, how refreshing  to see a rap star sing the praises of fatherhood and express tender feeling for his partner and new daughter:  Jay Z is not only following on from Stevie Wonder in writing songs about the joys of fatherhood, but is also in the footsteps of the ‘godfather of rap’ himself, the late great Gil Scott Heron.  He was much admired not only for his political lyrics, but also the way his songs expressed his feelings about his upbringing and the women in his life (not a ho’ in sight).

However, skimming the column inches devoted to Jay-Z’s tribute to new fatherhood, there seem to be surprisingly few references to women artists who have sung about parenthood.  This raises some inconvenient truths: not just the perennial issue of female musicians getting places in a male-dominated world, but how the sentiments in songs about parenthood relate to other work in stars’ back catalogues and to wider social culture.  Jay-Z has apparently declared that he will stop using the word ‘bitch’ now that he has a daughter – this leaves a slightly uncomfortable feeling that his precious princess has taught him something that no grown woman could convince him of: women deserve respect and consideration.  What happens when baby grows up?

Thinking about major women artists who have written about having children, two examples came to mind.  The first is Joni Mitchell, whose ‘Little Green’ was a poignant ode to a daughter she gave up for adoption as she had no means to keep her, and Kate Bush’s quirky Bertie, which marvels in the everyday wonder of her son.  Bush took several years to complete an album following the birth of her son who, according to interviews, she looks after without nanny or housekeeper (like most people in other words).  She is viewed as a ‘recluse’ for doing so.  Perhaps for all our advances, we have to conclude that while Dads may rock, motherhood is still not rock and roll. 



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