When we lend our ears and eyes to various black male music artists, past and present, as they share their thoughts and experiences about fatherhood, we gain a greater appreciation of it. Although the American psyche is incessantly bombarded with pernicious and unrepresentative media accounts and characterizations of black fatherhood, mending this moral and racial injustice begins with media granting black fathers more opportunities to opine about fatherhood. To offer a counternarrative to those racist, pillorying, and destructive dominant narratives, the extant piece gives voice to some black male music artists’ thoughts about fatherhood. Through brief explorations of Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “New Day,” Nas’s “Daughters,” and Luther Vandross’s “Dance with My Father,” we witness ideas and narratives about black fatherhood that garner significantly less attention in media.
Jay-Z and Kanye’s “New Day”
“New Day,” a track from Jay-Z and Kanye West’s 2011 collaborative album Watch The Throne, reveals how both rappers struggle with how their celebrity status engenders a less than ideal environment for their children. West, although childless at the time in which the song was penned and performed, is explicit in his longing for his son to be almost nothing like him. He wants to protect his child from the pressures and criticisms he has faced. Both artists, both childless in 2011, unveil they are not black men foolishly approaching fatherhood; they think deeply about fatherhood in its totality. West hopes his future son experiences true love, which is why he will never let his son “hit a strip club.” West posits that a strip club “ain’t the place to get love.” The intense love he has for his son leads him to envision a day when his son has an “easy life” and becomes “someone people like.”
Jay-Z laments how media’s constant oppressive surveillance of him results in this surveillance extending to his future son. Jay-Z wishes his son would not have to face such intrusion. The rap mogul desires to do phenomena with his son that he never did with his father. He is, therefore, positively using his experience without his father in his life. “New Day” divulges that developing an enduring bond with his son is one of Jay-Z’s top priorities. Instead of allowing the toxic dimensions of his past to have a negative impact on rearing his son, Jay-Z promises to teach him “good values” learned from past lessons. He vows to be a constant in his son’s life and a better father than his own father.
“Daughters,” a track from Nas’s (Nasir Jones) 2012 Life is Good album, addresses black fathers with daughters. The song informs listeners about how rearing a daughter can be a challenge, especially when she has behavior problems. Nas discloses how his daughter, Destiny Jones, involved herself with a guy who is incarcerated, and this enrages the rap icon. Jones contends that he has set a poor example of how to have a healthy intimate relationship: Destiny Jones witnessed “me switching women” and treating women as if he is a “pimp.” He explains to black fathers that their daughters can adopt destructive relationship practices from observing them. His daughter’s choice of a boyfriend who is incarcerated will not extinguish his love for her; his love for her will help him adjust.
“Daughters” details Nas’s reaction to his daughter posting a picture on Instagram of a box of condoms on her dresser. This incident causes him to think further about the errors he has made as a father, and he contemplates ways he can change his daughter’s behavior. Although he does not desire to be too controlling, he fears how her infelicitous behavior can adversely affect her future: “And I ain’t tryna mess ya thing up / But I just wanna see you dream up.” Nas, a single father, realizes how difficult it is to rear a child alone, and he empathizes and sympathizes with single black mothers rearing black males. Unapologetic for being protective of his daughter, Jones attributes his protectiveness to authentic love. The rapper acknowledges a common feeling among fathers: “no one is good enough for our daughters.”
Luther Vandross’s “Dance with My Father”
“Dance with My Father,” a hit from Luther Vandross’s 2003 Dance with My Father album, is an ode to his deceased father. Vandross, now deceased, recalls the joyous times he had with his father and longs to bond more with him. He misses his deceased father. Death is an inevitable reality of the human experience. Although he knows this, it does not make the loss of his father any less heart-wrenching. Vandross wishes to have another opportunity to dance with his father; he would “play a song that would never, ever end.”
The R&B legend conveys how his father’s death takes an emotional toll on his mother. He explains that the pain of his father’s death is almost unbearable for his mother: “I pray for her even more than me.” The great connection between his mother and father leads him to pray for what is impossible: “I know I’m praying for much too much / But could you send back the only man she loved.” “Dance with My Father” allows music fans to encounter a father and son’s love that lives beyond the grave.
The aforementioned songs show that black fatherhood is far more complex and endearing than the dominant media narratives present. These songs are testaments of real and powerful black fatherhood. We should use these narratives and discard racist and manipulative ones.
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