Celebrate the working mothers of hip hop this Women's History Month
In honor of Women’s History Month, HG contributor DeMicia Inman honors the women, past and present, who incorporate motherhood into their rap careers.
Women are often forced to choose between having a career and having a family. Our patriarchal society makes succeeding on either path difficult, and in any industry, pregnancy is viewed as the end of a woman’s chances for professional success. For Black women, just surviving pregnancy is a feat in itself. The Center for American Progress reports, “African American women are three to four times more likely to die from childbirth than non-Hispanic white women, and socioeconomic status, education, and other factors do not protect against this disparity. Instead, sexism and racism are primary drivers.”
In spite of this discrimination, working mothers break barriers on a daily basis, and women in the hip hop industry have their own special set of parameters when striving for success.
For starters, moms and dads live two different lives in hip hop.
When men rap about women, they are able to treat them as disposable in lyrics dripping in misogyny and insolence. When they become fathers, however, all transgressions are forgiven with one or two songs about how they did not view women as people until the birth of their daughter. But since women are supposed to be the primary caregivers in our society, being a mother and having a rap career is seemingly out of the question. As is the case in any industry, it is believed that successful women should not have children until after their career peaks.
But when it comes to motherhood and hip hop, these ladies have broken the mold.
One of the most dominant rappers in the industry today is a woman and a mother: Cardi B.
Cardi B’s swift takeover of hip hop and pop music did not slow down once she and husband, rapper Offset, announced daughter Kulture to the world—despite what people predicted on social media. In one of Cardi B’s recent uploaded-and-deleted Instagram videos, which she shared after becoming the first woman in history to win Best Rap Album at the 61st Grammy Awards, the “Bodak Yellow” rapper expressed the fact that many people counted her out when they learned of her pregnancy.
After growing tired of the backlash stemming from her historic win, a visually frustrated Cardi B took to the social media app and said, “[I] locked myself in the studio for three months my ni**a…didn’t sleep in my own bed. Sometimes for four days straight. Pregnant! Some songs couldn’t even get on the fucking album ‘cause my nose was so fuckin’ stuffy from my pregnancy…while everybody was harassing like, you not gonna do it, we know you pregnant, your career is over. That shit dwelling in my fucking mind while I’m working.”
Typically unabashed, the rapper had initially shied away from announcing her pregnancy, and as shown above, it was for good reason. Once she revealed her pregnancy on Saturday Night Live, the pressures of motherhood doubled while the spotlight on Cardi B continued to grow. In her June 2018 interview with Rolling Stone, Cardi said that she briefly considered abortion because of beliefs that a baby could ruin her career. In an April 2018 interview with The Breakfast Club radio show, Cardi explained that she knew she had the means to support herself and her baby, adding “Why do I gotta choose a career or a baby? Why can’t I have both? I want both.”
Despite these naysayers, Cardi B continues to prove that any ideas of motherhood hindering her career are only myths, and she incorporates this new role into her art. The rapper’s Coachella debut featured a glowing and pregnant Cardi twerking in all of her glory, her baby bump made appearances on magazine covers, in TV performances, and on red carpets, and Cardi even breastfed baby Kulture during her video for “Money.”
The Grammy-winning rapper is not alone when it comes to balancing motherhood with hip hop success. Contemporary rappers Bbymutha, Rico Nasty, and Yung Miami all share their different experiences navigating motherhood and rap careers.
Whether through intimate documentaries or precise lyricism, these women offer refreshing perspectives in the genre, proving that young Black motherhood has no limits.
Queen of the sugar trap, Rico Nasty’s refreshing presence in hip hop goes beyond her effervescent style of music. While the Nasty rapper often shares photos of her son, Cam, on social media, the world really got to witness Rico Nasty, mother, during her Countin’ Up documentary with FADER. We see that, for Rico, touring means constant calls back home to catch up with Cam, and she prefaces her pregnancy story with a strong “Whew child!” before going into details of heartbreak and tenacity. Following the death of her child’s father before his birth, Rico Nasty explains in the doc how she was determined to succeed:
“You either die or you keep going, that’s it. You don’t have no other option. The world don’t stop. Your job don’t stop. Your kids don’t stop. Money don’t stop…don’t nothing fucking stop unless you stop.”
Underground rapper Bbymutha embraces motherhood not only in her stage name, but through her art.
Bbymutha as a name itself challenges the negative implications of being a “baby mother” by proudly proclaiming it. The Chattanooga artist has two sets of twins, and the children have even made appearances on Bbymutha’s projects. During a recent interview with The Washington Post, Bbymutha revealed how her children impact her art and how she combats feelings of being a bad parent:
“Most of the time, I don’t really look at them as children. I look at them as people and I look at them as extensions of art. So when it comes to making my music, of course I include them in that…”
The rapper added, “You get told so many times in your life after you have kids that it’s all you’re ever going to be.”
When multiple women in hip hop succeed, it is still considered a rarity, which is why we must celebrate it. In addition to all the women currently making their mark in rap, these aforementioned mothers are also pushing an envelope that had been signed and sealed in past decades. Female rappers of the ’80s, ’90s, and early ’00s have also shared their experience of having children and a music career.
In a 2018 interview with Oprah magazine, Bronx rapper Remy Ma reflected on how the music industry influenced her desire for children. “[F]or female artists, it’s on a whole different level. We’re supposed to be seen as sex symbols. You’re told to appear single so people want you and desire you. All of these things are stuck into your head by the industry. So when you’re in the limelight, it takes a special kind of woman to say ‘I don’t care what anybody says.’”
In the same article, Remy shared her struggles to conceive a second child after experiencing ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage during the filming of Love & Hip Hop: New York, on which she appears with husband, rapper Papoose. Since then, Remy became pregnant again and the couple welcomed their baby girl, a self-proclaimed “Golden Child,” into the world in December 2018.
Lauryn Hill’s groundbreaking, Grammy award-winning solo album of 1998, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, features the song “To Zion.” The song joyfully celebrates Hill’s first son (she would go on to have six children) and references industry pressures that tried to convince her to delay motherhood: “I knew his life deserved a chance / But everybody told me to be smart / Look at your career they said / Lauryn, baby use your head / But instead I chose to use my heart.”
With a bright future in rap and R&B in the late ’90s, the saga ended after Miseducation; Hill is still hailed as one of rap’s greatest, but she never released another album. When discussing her decision to stop recording music, she told NPR in 2010, “…partly, the support system that I needed was not necessarily in place.”
In 1990, Pepa of all-female rap trio Salt-N-Pepa gave birth to her first son. That year, Salt-N-Pepa was also among hip hop’s biggest stars with the release of their platinum album Blacks’ Magic. This was followed by a 1992 Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for the song, “Let’s Talk About Sex.” Soon, all three members had become mothers, but their commercial success continued. In 1995, their fourth studio album Very Necessary earned them hit after hit with “Shoop,” “Whatta Man,” and the sexual freedom anthem, “None Of Your Business.” The latter resulted in their first Grammy win, making the three mothers the first women in rap to take home the gold.
In their April 1995 cover story with Jet, group members Salt, Pepa, and DJ Spinderella revealed that being mothers meant no more shortcuts in their career. “With children, we have to think about the future because you have someone depending on you,” said Salt.
Pepa added, “Now we have to be in control. It’s coming to a realization that this career, this life is yours. You have to do what you have to do and take no shortcuts.”
What women like Remy, Lauryn, and Salt-N-Pepa did—and what women like Cardi B, Rico Nasty, and Bbymutha continue to do—is make space for other women so that motherhood will not defer their dreams. Mothers in hip hop can encourage industry standards to change, and through their music, they will flip the script in a male-dominated industry. These women prove that having a child and a career in rap is not only possible, but worth celebrating.