|Single by 2Pac|
|from the album Me Against the World|
|Released||February 21, 1995|
Disc Jockey DJ King Assassin
|2Pac singles chronology|
"Dear Mama" is a song by American hip hop recording artist 2Pac, released on February 21, 1995 as the lead single from his third studio album, Me Against the World (1995). The song is a tribute to his mother, Afeni Shakur. In the song, Shakur details his childhood poverty and his mother's addiction to crack cocaine, but argues that his love and deep respect for his mother supersede bad memories. The song topped the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart for five weeks and also peaked at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100. The single was certified Platinum by the RIAA on July 13, 1995.
"Dear Mama" has been consistently ranked among the best of its genre, appearing on numerous "greatest" lists. In 2010, the song was added to the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress, who deemed it a work that is "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States." In a press release, the organization called the song "a moving and eloquent homage to both the murdered rapper's own mother and all mothers struggling to maintain a family in the face of addiction, poverty and societal indifference."
Composed in D-flat minor, the song is a tribute to Shakur's mother, Afeni Shakur. She and her husband were active members of the Black Panther Party in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Shakur was born a month after his mother was acquitted of more than 150 charges of "Conspiracy against the United States government and New York landmarks" in the New York "Panther 21" court case. She was often absent during his childhood in favor of being an activist, and also during his adolescence when she became addicted to crack cocaine. Shakur was kicked out by Afeni at age 17, and they had little contact for many years. Having "lost all respect" for his mother, he subsequently moved into a vacant apartment with friends and began writing poetry and rap lyrics. In 1990, realizing her habit was out-of-control, she enrolled in a 12-step program at a drug and alcohol treatment center in Norwalk, Connecticut. After completion, she reconciled with her son, who was at this point a successful recording artist.
Pac used to make references to 'Dear Mama' in a lot of different songs and I'd always be like 'You know that's a songs in itself.' And one day he was like 'I got somethin' for that.' And he was like 'Man, you have In My Wildest Dreams by the Crusaders' and I was like 'Yeah.' He was like 'Yeah, I got something for that.' So I got the track ready. Pac just came through and just dropped it and blessed it with them vocals.
The song was written shortly before Shakur served a prison term. Upon completion of the track, Shakur phoned longtime friend Jada Pinkett-Smith, remarking, "I wrote this song about our mothers and I want you to hear it." Pinkett-Smith's mother too had struggled with drug addiction, and their experiences growing up with this as children led to their friendship. She later remarked that the song gave her a "rush of emotions" upon her first listen. Johnny J, one of the rapper's producers, noted that "The emotional, the sad songs, were his personal favorites." Shakur mentioned the song and his intentions behind it in a 1995 interview with the Los Angeles Times: "I'm the kind of guy who is moved by a song like Don McLean's "Vincent," that one about Van Gogh. The lyric on that song is so touching. That's how I want to make my songs feel. Take "Dear Mama" — I aimed that one straight for my homies' heartstrings." When questioned on possible misogyny in his lyrics, Shakur defended his music, noting that he worked in the studio with women and played his songs for women pre-release, remarking, "Why do you think I wrote 'Dear Mama'? I wrote it for my mama because I love her and I felt I owed her something deep."
Lyrical content and message
In "Dear Mama," Shakur praises his mother's courage, arguing that many mothers share this trait, and also describes the "highs and lows" of her past. In a cultural and historical context, "Dear Mama" is part of a long line of hip-hop songs in which male rappers state their reverence for their mothers. Statistics show that a disproportionate number of African-American households are headed by single mothers, and Hess asserts that their bravery and role in their children's lives leads to their status as an "eternal symbol of love" in their offspring's eyes. Mickey Hess, author of Is Hip Hop Dead?: The Past, Present, and Future of America's Most Wanted Music, asserts that his mother's appearance in Shakur's music works is designed to establish credibility with listeners. In this sense, he "connects himself to black radical history through his mother's affiliation with the Black Panthers," and explains that his music is autobiographical, illustrating that 2Pac (the stage performer) and Tupac Shakur (the person) are one and the same. In addition, Shakur recorded the tune as he knew he was not the only person to grow up with a parent struggling with drug addiction.
The song's most famous lyric is one in which Shakur "declares his love for Afeni as well as his disappointment in her": "And even as a crack fiend, mama, you always was a black queen, mama." Michael Eric Dyson, author of Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur, writes that this line speaks to Shakur's maturity: "[It] allows him to value his mother's love even as he names her affliction. His refusal to lie as he praises her is all too revealing." In the song, Shakur also takes aim at the lack of a father figure in his life: "No love from my daddy cause the coward wasn't there / He passed away and I didn't cry, cause my anger wouldn't let me feel for a stranger." The line, according to Black Fathers: An Invisible Presence in America, "seemed to resonate with a generation of Black males who felt estranged from their fathers." Shakur also describes "being kicked out of his home at 17, selling crack rock with thugs who offered paternalistic support, hugging his mother from behind bars." "Dear Mama" samples the songs "Sadie" (1974) by The Spinners, and "In All My Wildest Dreams" (1978) by Joe Sample.
According to The Philadelphia Tribune's George Yancy, the slowness of the beat creates in the listener a mood of reflective reminiscence. Tupac begins by creating a context where his mother was simply taken for granted against the backdrop of his rather mischievous behavior. He says, "Suspended from school, scared to go home, I was a fool with the big boys breaking all the rules." He then reflects on how he no doubt blamed the wrong person: "I shed tears with my baby sister. Over the years we were poorer than the other little kids. And even though we had different daddies, the same drama, when things went wrong, we blamed mama. I reminisce on the stress I caused..." George Yancy explains "Tupac Shakur has truly provided us with a Black matriarchal praise song. It penetrates to the heart of how many of us perceive our Black mothers. It pulls us into the center of Tupac's own individual sonmother symbiotic relationship and yet it speaks to our own often dormant memories of just how wonderful our mothers have been. Thus, listening to Tupac's "Dear Mama" tends to revitalize an appreciative attitude for one's dear mother. The cut itself is transformative; it forces us to literally see our mothers differently, to understand our mothers differently, and to appreciate our mothers more."
Release and reception
The test pressing for "Dear Mama" was pressed several weeks prior to the single's official release on January 27th.
The song topped the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart for five weeks and peaked at number nine on the Hot 100. It also topped the Hot Dance Music Maxi-Singles sales chart for four weeks. The single was certified platinum by the RIAA on July 13, 1995 and sold 700,000 copies domestically.
The Los Angeles Times praised the tune, writing, "The song attests to Shakur's gift at crystallizing complex emotions in simple stark images." Rolling Stone called the song "a heartfelt, sometimes harsh dedication of love for his mother that deals with the trials and tribulations each has put the other through." In his dean's list for the Pazz & Jop critics poll, Robert Christgau named "Dear Mama" the eighth best single of 1995.
The video features an appearance by Afeni Shakur, who re-enacts her reconciliation with a lookalike of her son. Tupac himself was serving his four-and-a-half-year prison sentence. He released this song, and the album where this song came from, while being sentenced. While in prison his album quickly climbed the charts. The demand for a video grew: the video was released while he was in prison and for that reason could not be in the video. No other video was made when he was released.
The song is often considered Shakur's most "emotionally resonant" song. Rolling Stone placed "Dear Mama" at number 18 on its 2012 list of The 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time, writing, "The song is the ne plus ultra of hip-hop odes to Mom." The song was also ranked number four on About.com's "Top 100 Rap Songs" list. Carrie Golus of USA Today opined that "Dear Mama" was the sole reason for the double-platinum certifications of Me Against the World. Golus also argues that the song revealed a softer side of the rapper, leading to increased recognition, especially among female fans. Following the rapper's death, his mother mentioned the song in a People article: "Can I listen to it without crying? No. It gets worse every time. It gets harder, it really does. That song gets deeper and deeper." LA Weekly placed the song 6 on their list The 20 Best Hip-Hop Songs in History. Rate Your Music ranked the song at 7th on their list of The 200 Best Hip Hop Songs Of All Time.
"Dear Mama" was one of 25 recordings selected for preservation at the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress in 2010, making it the third hip hop song to do so, following tracks by Public Enemy and Grandmaster Flash. The Library of Congress has called the song "a moving and eloquent homage to both the murdered rapper's own mother and all mothers struggling to maintain a family in the face of addiction, poverty and societal indifference." On the subject of the inclusion, Afeni Shakur stated, "It could have been any song, but I'm honored they chose "Dear Mama" in particular. It is a song that spoke not just to me, but every mother that has been in that situation, and there have been millions of us. Tupac recognized our struggle, and he is still our hero."
The song was played in the Tupac biopic, All Eyez On Me, with Tupac's mother, Afeni Shakur, exiting Clinton Correctional Facility, after visiting 2Pac, who was serving 18 months to 4.5 years for sexual abuse.
The song has impacted numerous rappers. Eminem stated that the song played constantly in his car in the year following its release. " 'Dear Mama' was one of Tupac's songs that influenced me the most; it was one of the most heartfelt songs I've ever heard in hip-hop," said Common. "It also showed that you could be a real cat but still express compassionate love […] The music sounded beautiful. It showed courage." Kendrick Lamar noted that the song profoundly impacted his life, writing, "I can really go back and appreciate the value of vulnerability and being able to express yourself and not being scared to express yourself."
- 12", cassette, CD, maxi
- "Dear Mama" (LP Version) — 4:41
- "Dear Mama" (Instrumental) — 5:21
- "Bury Me a G" — 4:59
- "Dear Mama" (Moe Z. Mix) — 5:09
- "Dear Mama" (Instrumental Moe Z. Mix) — 5:09
- "Old School" (LP Version) — 4:59
Credits and personnel
- Background vocals: "Sweet Franklin", Reggie Green
- Co-Producers: DF Master Tee, Moses
- Engineer: Tony Pizarro
- Mix engineers: Paul Arnold, Leevester Clay
- Producer: Tony Pizarro
- Turntable Cuts Original Version: DJ King Assassin
- Rap Vocals: 2Pac
- Keys: Reggie Green
- Bass: Charles Jefferson
- Joe Sample - "In All My Wildest Dreams"
- The Spinners - "Sadie"
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