“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless.” (Isaiah 1:17)
Each Tuesday in Music Matters, Matthew Linder explores the intersections of music, culture and faith.
Reading the biographies of many of hip-hop artists unfolds a common theme, fatherlessness. Growing up in the Marcy Houses project, Jay-Z was raised by his mother because his father abandoned him at age eleven. Lil’ Wayne’s father left his mother when he was two years old and the rapper calls himself Wayne instead of his given name , since Dwayne is the name of his father. Eminem’s father left him at eighteen months old and no relationship exists between the two. Kayne West was raised in a single mother household after his father divorced his mother when he was three years old. Ke$ha has no knowledge of who her father is, as he left her mother before she was born. Nicki Minaj’s father was a gospel singer and so abusive that her mother moved Nicki and her siblings to Queens, New York from Trinidad and Tobago when Nicki was five. Perhaps the saddest case of fatherlessness is Game, who was forced into the foster care system at age seven until he turned sixteen.
Not surprisingly, expressions of frustration, anger and sorrow over being fatherless come out in many of the songs which these artists create. In “Cleaning Out My Closet”, Eminem laments on his own mistakes but angrily calls out his dad on his:
My f****** father must have had his panties up in a bunch
Cause he split, I wonder if he even kissed me goodbye
No I don’t on second thought I just f****** wished he would die
I look at Hailie, and I couldn’t picture leaving her side
Even if I hated Kim, I grit my teeth and I’d try
To make it work with her at least for Hailie’s sake
Jay-Z explodes in anger at the empty promises of his father in “Where Have You Been”:
Daddy was a crack feind 2 in the morning had us running down the street like a track team
When he burnt the house down n my mother was in it
How could I forget it the, pain infinite…
Nightmares of you killing my mother
The reason that I sleep with my head under the covers
N shoulda thrown a book at, ch’you cause I hate you so much that it burn when I look at ch’you
May the lord protect me as the world gets hectic
My voice projected my life reflected
I wanted to walk just like him (remember?)
wanted to talk just like him (word)
often momma said I look too much
and I thought just like him (it could happen)
wanted to drink Miller nips
and smoke Newports just like you
but you left me, now I’m goin to court just like you
I would say “my daddy loves me and he’ll never go away”
bull***, do you even remember December’s my birthday?…
F*** You! very much you showed me the worst kind of pain
but I’m stronger and trust me I will never hurt again
will never ask mommy “why daddy don’t love me?
Why is we so poor?, why is life so ugly?
Mommy why is your eyes puffy?”
please don’t cry everything’ll be alright
I know it’s dark now, but we gon’ see the light
It’s us against the world
we don’t need him, right?
Hip hop’s exploration of fatherlessness is one of the multi-faceted reasons why an urban, primarily African-American art form was embraced by suburbanite white kids. According to Harvard magazine, “Now 57 percent of women with high-school degrees or less education are unmarried when they bear their first child.” Ultimately and sadly, without the covenantal bonds of marriage many of these children will not know their fathers. Additionally, the overall divorce rate is hovering around 30% with African-American women exceeding that national average by 20%. Whites and African-Americans then can both easily identify their struggle in hip hop music, since it communicates the anguish, resentment and grief of life without a father.
As a father myself, this distresses me to no end. So many children in our churches and our communities are without a father and to hear adults vocalize their childhood afflictions of being fatherless is heartbreaking. With the recent 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a more holistic vision of our defense of the unborn must, must, must include a defense of those without a father (or any parents). Scripture calls us to seek justice for the fatherless (for example, Jer. 5:28, Isa. 1:17 and James 1:27) and if the cries of the fatherless in hip hop are any indication, then we have long way to go in achieving justice. But even when we fail at caring for the fatherless, God acts as the ultimate father for those who have none. This is why a hip hop artist like Lecrae, whose father left him at an early age to sell drugs, found a father in God. Let us communicate this truth to the fatherless: your earthly father failed you but our heavenly father never will.