The modern fatherhood space can seem, well, academic, at times. Overly disciplined, sterile. Whitewashed, even.
Then, seemingly out of the blue, a hip-hop album drops, and a breathtakingly talented dad emerges to the forefront to remind us that fatherhood advocacy isn’t always squeaky-clean academia and the face of it, most certainly, isn’t always white.
And, perhaps unbeknownst even to him, he has just penned fatherhood’s National Anthem in the form of an elaborate conceit, woven around a singular euphonious narrative, stretched expertly across 17 tracks of the illest hip hop I’ve been treated to in quite some time.
U-N-I-T-Y is what spell unity
Jamaica all my jewelry
‘Cause I’ll only rep what’s in my community
Matter fact, play this after my eulogy
– Beleaf, “Tribe”
Beleaf, whose last studio album, 2014’s Red Pills + Black Sugar, received some acclaim, isn’t on his first fatherhood rodeo. He has chronicled his own brand of active and engaged involvement with his three kids on his gorgeous Beleaf In Fatherhood YouTube series since 2015. But fatherhood, in particular the recent birth of his first daughter, did change something profound in him, and it is apparent in his new music.
On In Fatherhood, Beleaf latest places a larger emphasis on family, immediate and extended, and the need for holding up one another despite seemingly unfair share of trials and tribulations.
I throw a snowball at a snowman
Frostbit on both hands
I bow down to no man
That’s ice on ice violence
I SE’LICE (SLICE) a sky’s silence,
Avalanche your native land
I’m Abraham, I found a ram
up in that thicket
sick til’ the kids say lit.
That look like that hurt.
Put some ice on that
— Beleaf, “No Chill”
Though he whimsically interlaces In Fatherhood with light-hearted interludes about the internet offering him a bevy of unsolicited parenting advice, an angry voicemail from an ex-girlfriend, and other pleasantly deft digressions, a la De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising, he is earnest and edgy in his hip-hop prosody. He means what he says and says what he means and no biters, haters, or online beraters are ever going to dissuade him.
I wrote myself a lullaby so I could sleep
But I don’t sleep on
Chocolate babies urinated
Tempurpedics get peed on
Up and at ‘em, 3 am
I caught it all on C-A-M
You laugh at me when I’m pooped on
But diapers look like Grey Poupon
– Beleaf, “Lightweight”
Don’t get it twisted. That verse above is hardly parody. This isn’t a one-off internet dad rapper being funny atop a found beat. This is his story and life and to be able to nimbly spin it into verse is beyond noteworthy. It’s genius.
In fact, “Lightweight” is quite possibly my favorite of the bunch on In Fatherhood. It has an undeniable “he’s not heavy, he’s my brother,” vibe, but in the obvious context of his kids. There’s a cadence and tone to it as if it is answering a charge. When I hear it and its tale of the trials of fatherhood and family life, I can’t help think about the erroneous-yet-pervasive notion of “the absent or uninvolved black father.”
No one told me it’d be this good
No one said I’d have this much fun with you
They all told me about the hard times
But they said nothin’ about the miracles
Look, it’s all good
No matter what you may do
It’s all good
— Beleaf, “You’re Okay”
Grab a tissue or a baby wipe or whatever you have handy because you’re going to need it. “You’re Okay” is not merely an earworm. It’s a soul Cydnidae. It’s a love song to a son, a ballad for a baby girl. It’s the anthem for “Everyfather.” It’s the ultimate expression of a modern dad’s love for his offspring. Fatherhood organizations should be clamoring to license it as the soundtrack to all things paternal.
My car got stolen the other day
And I blame the devil
I’m feeling like a mountain
Tribulations like a pebble
Talk to God on my behalf
If you could fit that in your schedule
Your boy needs some sleep
The baby screaming like a kettle
— Beleaf, “Protect Ya’ Life”
Beleaf is a dedicated Christian man who joyfully wears his spirituality on the sleeve. But this is not “God Rock.” These aren’t mumble rapping, ass slapping, lazily looped club bangers. It’s an intentional, symphonic call-back to the age of real MCs: an age when artful wordsmiths like Souls Of Mischief, Mos Def, De La Soul, and Digable Planets crafted dynamic metaphors and employed compelling poetic constructs in an effort to “bring the ruckus.” In Fatherhood exemplifies that same feel because of Beleaf’s acrobatic lyricism and how his every sentiment settles expertly into the dips and vicissitudes of the music.
This is REAL hip hop. In Fatherhood is the way, the truth, and the life and a downright deluge in an obvious drought.