Dear Mama: 12 Songs That Celebrate Mom

Premiere of “I Like It Like That” To Benefit Women In Need

“Hi, Mom!” No matter who you are, or what your baller status is, Mom always gets props for all your blessings and achievements in life. So when you’re an artist lucky enough to have a microphone and a recording studio, why not elevate Mama to the deity status she deserves? Here are a dozen examples of maternal wisdom and prowess by our favorite artists over the past four decades:

“I’ll Always Love My Mama” by The Intruders (1973)

The three things in life you gotta do:  Live, die and pay your taxes. Add loving your mama to that list. “You only got one,” sung with pure Philly soul.

“Sadie” by The Spinners (1976)

“Sweeter than cotton candy/Stronger than papa’s old brandy.” This Spinners classic hit epitomizes when a perfect song meets the perfect voice–Phillipe Wynn sounds downright heavenly.

“Mama’s Pearl” by The Jackson 5 (1971)

One of young Michael Jackson most stellar vocal performances, “Mama’s Pearl” tells of a young girl listening to her mama to know her worth, save herself for the right man, and walk right by the slick-talking hounds sniffin’ around. Which is still sound motherly advice.

“A Song for Mama” by Boyz II Men (1997)

True, this mama song is saccharine sweet. But the Soul Food movie soundrack, written by Babyface, sung in Boyz’ trademark four-part harmony, was a number-one hit is the kind of ballad folks will be playing at every mama-centered event. Forever.

“Superwoman” by Alicia Keys (2007)

Lyrically, “Superwoman” isn’t anything other-worldly. But Keys sings with such conviction–honoring working moms, moms fighting for their children, every downtrodden woman who’s ever had get back up again, wearing that S on their chest, it’s pretty hard not to bow down to mama.

“Mama Knew Love” by Anthony Hamilton (2003)

When Anthony Hamilton sings, it sounds like the entire antebellum struggle is being carried on his shoulders. Here, Hamilton’s gravelly voice soaked in Southern molasses makes you wistful for a simpler time, when Mama’s cooking food and a strong yet pillow-soft hug really could make everything feel alright. Cue real thug tears.

“Mama Used to Say” by Junior (1982)

Junior was the first British singer to cross over stateside. With his high-pitched tenor riding atop a funky synth-bass-driven groove was The Jam back in ’82: “Take your time young man/And Mama used to say/Don’t you rush to get old.” Junior’s “Mama” turned out to be a one-hit wonder. But proves that Mama stays #1.

“Momma Knows” by Will Smith (2002)

In 2002, Will Smith had reached bonafide movie star status—his best days as a rapper already behind him. Still, as the album title suggests, Smith was Born to Reign. Interpolating some of aforementioned Junior’s pop lyrics and underscoring his “parents just don’t understand” theme, Will tells tales of running the streets (really?), while eschewing mom’s advice, as all kids do. Come to find out, ultimately, she was/is right. Now, that Will and us are all grown, we’re probably spouting the same maxims at our own hard-headed kids.

“Dear Mama” by Tupac (1995)

Tupac’s tribute to his mom, Afeni Shakur, the former Black Panther who birthed him in jail, is the ultimate hip-hop mom send-up. Sampling The Spinners’ “Sadie,” the aforementioned mama tribute, “Dear Mama” was the debut single off Me Against the World. But Tupac knew his mama had his back, and vice versa. “Even as a crack fiend, mama/You always was a Black queen, mama.” Thug love at its finest.

“Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J (1991)

In 1991, James Todd Smith, aka LL Cool J, was at a career crossroads: The rap game was changing. Kool Moe Dee & Ice-T were coming at him. Searching for direction, Cool J asked his grandmother (who raised him) what he should do. Her reply? “Knock them out.” BOOM! LL’s biggest selling album dropped, even copped a Grammy for the take-no-prisoners title track. Even better: At the end of the classic black-and-white boxing-themed video, his grandma says: “Todd! Todd! Get upstairs and take out that garbage!” Yup. Nothing like a mama to put the thug in you, then yank it away in one fell swoop.

“Umi Says” by Mos Def (1999)

When Mos Def (now, Yasiin Bey) decides to sing, it brings a different kind of introspection beyond his trademark conscious rap. Using the Muslim term of endearment for mom, he invokes his mama’s pearls of wisdom: “My Umi says, Shine your light on the world/Shine your light for the world to see.” Even now, our kids face a volatile world, but still need to be encouraged to achieve and set goals–even those as lofty as wanting “our people to be free, to be free.” It’s lyrical Hope in a bottle.

“Thinking of You” by Lenny Kravitz (1998)

Yes, his badass sophomore album was titled Mama Said, (dope album + title track, recently rereleased). But Kravitz’s fifth album, 5, features one of the most touching mama eulogies ever. Dedicated to his mom, actress Roxy Roker (of The Jeffersons fame), who had died in 1995, Lenny sings softly to her in heaven, asking her, “Is it just the way they say?/… Are you missing me the way I’m missing you today?” And like any child, he wants mama to know that he’s trying to live up to “all the things you wanted me to be.”  Goosebumps. Every. Time.

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