Kanye West Loses a Rapper's Best Friend The hip-hop artist lost his mother, a frequent presence in his music, over the weekend. Rolling Stone writer Toure explores the tradition of superstars admiring, employing and taking care of their moms.
NPR logo

Kanye West Loses a Rapper's Best Friend

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/16243338/16243265" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Kanye West Loses a Rapper's Best Friend

Kanye West Loses a Rapper's Best Friend

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/16243338/16243265" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Well, as you've probably heard by now, Kanye West's mom, Donda West, died suddenly over the weekend. She was 58 years old. We're going to try to talk a little bit more about her life coming up and how she died in just a moment.

First though, when anyone's mom passes away, it's obviously a huge deal to them. But when it's a hip-hop artist's mom, it can mean something else. It can mean one of the central characters in their music is gone.

(Soundbite of song, "Dear Mama")

TUPAC (Rapper): (Rapping) And even as a crack fiend mama, you always was a black queen mama. I finally understand for a woman it ain't easy trying to raise a man.

BURBANK: That's Tupac's "Dear Mama." His mom, Afeni Shakur, was a one-time Black Panther. She was in jail when she was pregnant with him. The story goes that she petitioned for one boiled egg a day, arguing the food wasn't nutritious enough for an expecting mother.

(Soundbite of song, "Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)")

JAY-Z (Rapper): (Rapping) Feel me now, listen. Momma loved me, pop left me. Mickey fed me, and he dressed me. Eric fought me, made me tougher. Love you for that one no matter what brah.

BURBANK: That's Jay-Z with his mom anthem, "Momma Loves Me." His mom Gloria Carter raised him as a single parent from most of his formative years in the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn. Gloria Carter says she bought her son, Little Sean Carter at that time, a boom box when he was kid. This was to keep him off the streets. He says that's when he started to figure out he was good at something other than making trouble.

(Soundbite of song, "Hey Mama")

KANYE WEST (Singer): (Rapping) As we knelt on the kitchen floor, I said mommy I'm'a love you till you don't hurt no more. And when I'm older, you ain't gotta work no more. And I'm'a get you that mansion that we couldn't afford. See you're unbreakable, unmistakable, highly capable. Lady that's makin' loot. A livin legend too, just look at what heaven do. Send us an angel, and I thank you. Hey mama.

BURBANK: And, finally, that's Kanye himself talking about his late mother Dr. Donda West on "Hey Mama." And Kanye didn't grow up in the projects. His mom was a college professor, actually, but she raised him alone. And when he was still a nobody, they moved to an apartment in Newark, New Jersey together. She believed in him and it turns out she was right.

Rappers love to talk about their moms in songs. They also love to talk about the dearly departed, which means you probably haven't heard the last of Donda West, not by a long shot.

(Soundbite of song, "Hey Mama")

Mr. WEST (Singer): (Rapping) Now I feel like it's things I gotta get things I gotta do, just to prove to you. You was getting through, can the choir please give me a verse of you, are so beautiful to me? Can't you see?


At just 58 years old, Donda West died Saturday, reportedly due to complications from plastic surgery. Now, the family thank supporters for all the kind words and support and released this statement: After working in higher education for 31 years, Dr. Donda West and Kanye West co-founded the Kanye West Foundation with the mission of helping to combat the severe dropout problem in high schools across the country.

They went on to say that in lieu of flowers, they'd like people to donate to that foundation. She retired as the chairman of the English Department of Chicago State University before moving to L.A. a couple of years ago to manage her son's career. Kanye once told MTV, quote, "my mother was my everything."

And as we've just heard there was a tradition of hip-hop superstars admiring, employing, and taking care of their moms.

Toure is an author and a former contributing editor at Rolling Stone, has written extensively about music culture.

Hey, Toure.

TOURE (Former Contributing Editor, Rolling Stone): Hey, Alison. How are you doing?

STEWART: I'm doing great. Can you expand a little bit on Donda West's influence on her son's life?

TOURE: Yeah. I mean, I - you know, you can see in Kanye that he's one of those single children with single parent seems to think that, you know, the world revolves around him in a lot of ways that...

BURBANK: Really? You get that from him? You got that from his music?

TOURE: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOURE: I think I got that from him as, first, you know - the first single that I saw him, when I met him, I was like, wow, you know, that ego that he has is different than the traditional rapper ego. And, you know, when I talked to his mom about Kanye, she said, yeah, I worship the ground that he walk on and she supported everything that he ever wanted to do.

And I think he was like 11 or 12, he wanted to make a video game. He wanted to make his own video game. And she helped him get to that and the program that he bought ended up being something that had, you know, musical aspect to it and he started focusing on that. And that's how he started as co-producer. And just - everything that he ever wanted to do, she supported. She loved him to death. She loved his music, you know. I mean, she was super supportive of him in everything he wanted to do.

STEWART: Jay-Z had a moment of silence last night in respect for Donda West. Now, Jay-Z's mom also runs a foundation for her son, right?

TOURE: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, hip-hop is big on loving your mother probably because so many rappers grew up without their dad...

STEWART: Mm-hmm.

TOURE: ...and with their moms. And there's just so many songs that not even, you know, an anthem to mom but just make a mention of, like, you know, love you mom and later for you dad, you know, you were never there but mom was always there. Which is always a weird sort of dichotomy of, you know, when we learn to love our mother, you know, above all people and she's sort of a saint in so many hip-hop songs that mentions Tupac on and on but dad you know like, we don't learn how to love you - the women who our peers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: That's my big question. How did these artists walk that line between objectifying women and music versus the respect and admiration for moms?

TOURE: I mean, I think what you see is that you develop a specific love for your mother because she's there for you every day, taking care of you but you don't see a positive relationship in the home. So you love this specific individual but you don't learn how to love women in general, which you will learn if you grew up watching a man love a woman i.e. your mother and then from that you learn, oh wow, you know, it's cool to be a man and to love women in general. If you don't see that it can be a harder lesson to learn.

STEWART: Now, Eminem reconciled with his mom because she's ill but, you know, he wrote horrible things about her in a song. She sued him for defamation. What gives with Eminem?

TOURE: Well, I mean, Eminem had a really difficult relationship with his mother. She was not - to his telling, she was terribly loving. He also said that she had Munchausen syndrome which made her think that he was constantly sick, so she's constantly bringing him to the hospital to be checked out for phantom illness.

BURBANK: By the way, that's a - Munchausen is when if the parent hurts the kids, so the parent can get attention, right?


BURBANK: For those who maybe aren't familiar with that term. I just want to clarify.

TOURE: They were not hurting him, but she thought that he was sick.

BURBANK: Right. So...

TOURE: So she constantly put him in the hospital to deal with illness that he didn't have...


TOURE: ...and making him think that he was sick and constantly telling him you're nothing like your dad. And - so, I mean, she was not a positive force in his life. So now that he's famous, he's getting her back along with everybody else who wasn't there for him when he wasn't famous.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Seriously. So - here's the question: How can you be hard as a rapper and be a mama's boy?

TOURE: Well, I mean, I think it kind of goes hand in hand, actually.


TOURE: I mean, you know, we love our moms in hip-hop so much. Then you go out in the street, you know, because there's no man in your house and you are mentored how to be a man by the other man on the corner. And we ought that, you know, each of them has that specific love for their mother, you know, but, you know, they're not really learning how to be gentlemen, how to be well-rounded men because a lot of times there's no dad in home. I mean...

STEWART: Right. They're modeling what they see on the street rather than what they might see in the home.

TOURE: Yeah. I mean, I think the fatherlessness, the rampant fatherlessness of the hip-hop generation and most rappers, specific, is a huge, huge impact on why hip-hop is the way it is. You know, the lawlessness that you see, you know, is sort of caricature of masculinity. You know, the love of mom but the disrespect of most women. A lot of it because they could not having had a model for manhood in the home.

STEWART: Toure is an author and former contributing editor at Rolling Stone.

Toure, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

TOURE: Thank you.

STEWART: We appreciate it.

TOURE: Sure. Have a good day.

STEWART: You too.

TOURE: All right.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.