(Disclaimer - I posted this last year. Since the debut of the Kanye Netflix doc jeen yuhs Kanye's relationship with his mother has never been more prevalent so running it again today. Happy Mother's Day!)
I wanna tell the whole world about a friend of mine
This little light of mine and I’m finna let it shine
I’m finna take y'all back to them better times
I’m finna talk about my mama if y'all don’t mind
A fitting song to highlight in this Sunday Night Sample on Mother's Day.
The song shines light on the relationship Kanye had with his mom, Donda, describing his affection and appreciation for her having raised him amidst personal hardships and instilling her values in him.
Back when Kanye was making a name for himself in the early 2000's there were a couple of different versions of "Hey Mama" floating around the mixtape circuit and Chicago DJ world.
Kanye teased the song for years, but never officially released it because he always thought it was only 99% done, not 100%. And anything less than perfection for his mom just wouldn’t cut it.
ORIGINAL UNRELEASED VERSION
He told MTV in 2003 upon releasing College Dropout of his plans for "Hey Mama", as well as his next three albums.
"I'm calling the next one Late Registration," he said earnestly. "I've got this song 'Hey Mama' I did three years ago that I'm saving for that one. Then my third album is going to be called Graduation. And the fourth is Good-Ass Job."
He was insanely proud of this song because it was his dedication to his mom.
Kanye was very close to his mother, who ran his charity foundation was his guest at many events, including the Grammy Awards. Dr. Donda West was a single mother, and Kanye was her only child. She became a professor at Chicago State University, eventually chairing the Department of English and Speech.
Kanye used to get As and Bs in high school but dropped out of Chicago State University to focus on his music career. His mother probably went against his decision in the beginning but he counts on making her proud by eventually going back to school–metaphorically, in his college-themed albums.
Kanye did eventually end up getting an honorary Ph.D. from the Art Institute of Chicago in May 2015. So, in a way, he did go back to school to get his degree.
Kanye was very protective of his mother’s heart when she was around other men. His parents divorced when he was three years old. Kanye was not a fan of his mother’s boyfriends and even retells his experience in a song titled “Mama’s Boyfriend:”
He walked in our lives I was only five
Superman pajamas I was super duper fly
Sittin there like why? He at least Hooper-Size
You know I scrutinize, like, “Who this newer guy?”
I’m my mama boyfriend, I’m her little husband
I was the man of the house when it wasn’t Tryna get to know me, homie?
Just kill the charm You ain’t interested in me, you just trying to fuck my mom"
In 2005 Kanye finally put the finishing touches on the record, along with recruiting up-and-comer John Legend to provide backing vocals. He beefed up the strings background, and added a new introduction.
The song samples folk artist Donal Leace's "Today Won't Come Again."
Originally written in 2000, West was unable to recall where he got the sample that propels the song, so he performed the song as a world premiere in front of his mom on The Oprah Winfrey Show, as tribute to her, and hoping that he might flush out the publisher.
It's really hard to watch this clip and not feel your heart sink a little bit. Its beautiful how proud Kanye was of his mom and how much he loved her.
This one from before the fame is just as tough.
His mom was so proud of this song that she famously bragged about having it as her ringtone on her phone.
Donda West tragically died on November 10, 2007, at the age of 58. The cause of death was heart disease allegedly spurred by “multiple post-operative factors” after receiving plastic surgery. At the time of her death, she was heavily involved with her son’s career, working as his general manager and overseeing West Brands LLC and the Kanye West Foundation. Since her death, Kanye has established the creative company DONDA in her honor.
Three months after her death, Kanye would muster up the strength to perform this song live at the 50th Grammy Awards. The performance was incredible and heartbreaking at the same time. You could feel his grief throughout from the beginning with it culminating in him breaking down towards the end.
The night also saw Kanye take home the Grammy award for best rap album. After meandering on the future of hip-hop, background music began to usher him off the stage as he started to speak about his mother.
“It would be in good taste to stop the music,” said West. Quickly enough, it did — and the crowd applauded.
He continued, speaking to his mother: “I know you want me to be the number one artist in the world. And, Mama, all I’m going to do is keep making you proud.” Holding his Grammy aloft, he added: “We run this.”
From that point on Kanye was never the same. As a person or as a creative artist.
Graduation was Kanye celebrating his success. A victory lap. And it felt it. "Good Life" might not just be the most upbeat song Kanye has ever done but one of the most upbeat songs of all time period.
We never saw and will never see that side of Kanye again. Not to say it's directly correlated to his mother's passing, but it’s pretty easy to see the difference between the “Kanye before Donda passed away” and the “Kanye after Donda passed away.”
It’s absolutely in no way his fault, but any son that paid for a procedure his mom didn’t wake up from would undoubtedly shoulder some blame. Given how incredibly close Kanye was with his mom and you can see why he went off the deep end.
808s and Heartbreak was the first album Kanye released after it and it was a noticeable detour in terms of tone and styling.
They say loss, heartbreak, and grief spur the greatest artists in the world to their best works. Since the beginning of time. It's sad but it's also true.
The 808s & Heartbreak album is about his grief over his mom and also for his broken-off engagement (of a 7-year relationship). The negative emotions surrounding My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy center on his exile after the VMAs "meltdown". Yeezus was made during when he was struggling to be accepted in the fashion world and the media began to focus more and more on his unraveling and mental issues. Most obviously he was on his way toward a full-on breakdown with The Life of Pablo, so it's evident all these hard moments have made incredible music.
Here’s hoping Kanye has come to terms with things and has begun turning the corner.
Happy Mother's Day!
------ UPDATED -----
jeen yuhs all but officially confirmed the theory that I've held since day 1- that Kanye's mom passing away, and him partially blaming himself for it, is what "sent him over the edge". And he's never been the same since. As you can see from the clips in the doc it's no wonder why-
By far his number one fan and biggest cheerleader. Seeing their relationship and just how insanely close they were really tugged at your heartstrings while watching. Especially knowing what the future held.
Happy Mother's Day everybody!