One of Hip Hop music's longest standing traditions is giving voice to the personal and systemic impact of absentee fathers. Songs such as Ed O.G. and Da Bulldogs' Be Father to Your Child to Jay-Z's Meet the Parents among many other similar rap songs draw the attention to the urban fatherless condition. In doing so, three main elements are found in these songs. First, there is a call to action for detached fathers to reconnect with their children. Second, these cautionary tales offer a glimpse into the turmoil that fatherless children and communities unnecessarily endure. Lastly beyond the catharsis of the all too common experience a simple yet profound question is posed particularly to male listeners. When it comes to fatherhood are you going to be a statistic or are you going to step up to the challenge?
Fortunately, many of the same Hip Hop artists that have experience difficult paternal relationships have ended that cycle and become great fathers themselves. As we celebrate Father's Day this weekend and continue the acknowledgement of Black Music Month; here are few fathers in rhyme who balance their artistry and parental responsibility without missing a beat.
Tariq Trotter, better known as Black Thought of the Legendary Roots band is probably your favorite MC's favorite MC. Along with Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, Black Thought has lead one of music's best live acts of the last 30 years. Before taking up residence as the house band for The Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show, which will move to the Tonight Show in 2014, the four-time Grammy winning band grew a fan base the world over with their incredible live performances and deep musical repertoire.
Off the worlds' stage Trotter still manages to co-lead an impressive and diversified team as the Chairman of the Board of the GrassRoots Community Foundation. Along with President Dr. Janice Johnson Dias, GrassRoots mission is focused and direct "to create a world where all girls grow up to be healthy women." Working in ten different cities across the country selected by need GrassRoots' goal is to limit the impact of environmental, behavioral, and social health challenges that frequently ensnare women and girls. Trotter, who tragically lost both of his parents in two separate incidences before he graduated from high school is the father of one daughter. Trotter has been especially vocal about one of the GrassRoots' newest programs, Daddy's Little Girls (DLG). DLG is a yearlong health challenge set to start on June 16th and has a simple premise. The goal of the project is to bring dads and daughters together for one health activity, at least once a week, for one full hour. Understanding the important role fathers play in setting the example for eating and exercise habits for young women, DLG is hoping to facilitate a calendar full of daddy-daughter play dates. Black Thought similar to his native Philadelphia is both tough and no-nonsense yet balanced with soft spot for what is really important to all of us, family.
The next two fathers are family men through and through. Snoop Dog born Calvin Broadus Jr. and T.I. born Clifford Harris Jr. are both TV dads yet they are very different from the often canonized fictional TV dad Bill Cosby. A driving misconception about parenting in general and fatherhood in particular is that effectiveness is dependent on the parents' ability to be blameless. Harris, and Broadus, turns this theory on its head, neither men had a steady relationship with their fathers, yet they show their own children consistent love and proper direction despite their personal missteps. No one is going to condone the activities that have landed Snoop or T.I. afoul of the law. Mainly because those choices limit their ability to fully participate in the lives of their children and as fathers that level of engagement is irreplaceable.
That aside, what Broadus showed during the three year run on Snoop Dogg's Fatherhood and what Harris is showing on T.I. and Tiny: The Family Hustle is unconventional fathers can still be successful fathers. Broadus' middle son Cordell has earned two football scholarship offers from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Duke University. Harris' oldest daughter Zonnique is a member of the OMG Girlz and they are set to start a World Tour this summer. Do as I say not as I do, while not practical, seems to be working.
Another Hip Hop offspring with a booked summer is one Jaden Smith, son of the Fresh Prince himself Will Smith. Sons and daughters following in their parents' career paths is nothing new, but the Smiths lead by Will seem to have it down to a science. After two weeks the box office numbers for After Earth are less than expected, but even that disappointment cannot detract from the larger truth. A kid from West Philly, who got into acting after a highly successful rap career, has set his children up to be major Hollywood and entertainment fixtures for years to come. Smith, who saw his own parents separate as a teen, went through a very public divorce from his first wife. Looking to his father's example Smith continued to play a major role in the raising of his first son despite the change in the family structure. After Smith married Jada Pinkett and started their own family they were praised for being a great example of blended family. Jaden at 14 years old has a hand full of major movie roles already under his belt. Willow Smith in 2010 scored a chart topping single on Billboard with, Whip My Hair and she is budding actress in her own right. Bright futures seem to be in the scripts of all the Smiths.
Not all fatherly relationships play out like Hollywood movies. Che Smith also known as Rhymesfest is a Grammy winning Chicago rapper and activist, who has spent much of his career speaking out on the importance of fatherhood. In January, Smith made the news for reconnecting with his father Brain Tillman, who he had not seen since he was 11 years old. Despite 20 plus year of little to no contact, Smith pledged to help his dad get back on his feet under the condition that his father continues to help himself. On May 25th Smith through his twitter account posted this picture http://bit.ly/1ac7a9m of his father. It seem like Tillman is on the road to recovery. The willingness of Smith to forgive and help his father after such a long and painful separation is both instructional and inspirational. Smith, who is a father of two, knows firsthand the joys of fatherhood even though he did not have much of a relationship with his own father. Smith invested in fatherhood and seems to be getting a great return on that investment.
Hip Hop music is sometime accused of being tone deaf on important social issues. Not only in their music but also their actions these fathers and many more like them within the Hip Hop community show is the private choice of fathering your children will have a very public impact. We salute these men and hope that the countless others who learn their lyrics and dance to their music will follow their lead and get in to the grove of fatherhood.