Daddy issues: why Beyoncé, Chance the Rapper and Jay-Z put their parents on their albums

How rap and R&B stars revived the once prolific ‘interlude’ as a family affair

Interludes on US rap and R&B albums used to involve “hilarious” voicemail recordings, breathy come-ons or – as on Ludacris’s 2003 opus Chicken-n-Beer – an automated menu offering niche advice: “If you woke up with a hangover and a pair of hairy balls on your forehead, press #7.” The rise of consumer cherry-picking facilitated by streaming has curtailed the often-skipped interlude, but now they’re back, and in a very specific way.

Solange, Frank Ocean, Chance the Rapper, SZA, Jay-Z and Beyoncé have all used the voices of their respective parents, or parental figures, on interludes to weave a narrative through recent albums, accenting their broader themes. Take, for example, Jay-Z’s Smile from 4:44, in which his own soul-baring about his mum Gloria’s homosexuality is anchored by her appearance at the song’s end. Sister-in-law Solange, meanwhile, built A Seat at the Table around interviews with her parents, their monologues on race bookmarking the album’s personal narrative; while Beyoncé used a clip of Jay-Z’s grandmother as the denouement of Lemonade. From Chance the Rapper’s dad, Ken, telling him he’s proud of him on Acid Rap to Frank Ocean’s friend’s mum sweetly listing things to avoid on Blonde (“Don’t use that cocaine or marijuana”), artists keep using the voices of their elders. But why?

“It’s usually a device to enrich someone’s story, to suggest the entire world that produced the artist you’re getting to know via their work,” says Ross Scarano, deputy music editor at Complex Media. It’s no coincidence that a lot of these artists are deeply private outside of their work, often saying very little in interviews or, in the case of Beyoncé and Jay-Z, just not doing them. These interludes offer up personal history, communicating a warmth and humanity at odds with the unreachable status of the old-school megastar. They also often appear in the artist’s most self-consciously important work, an acknowledgment that such artistic heights could never have happened without that support network.

More than helping to craft An Album, such familial sermons cement the bond between artist and listener. Radio 1 DJ and life-long Carter-Knowles stan Clara Amfo says: “[Jay-Z]’s been open about aspects of his life before but on 4:44, it’s the first time I felt like: ‘OK, I’m seeing you as a whole person now.’” For Amfo, A Seat at the Table offered up a similarly direct conversation. “Her parents’ speeches put into context why Beyoncé and Solange have become the people they’ve become. I don’t think that album would be the same without them.”


Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

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