2015 has been a particularly fertile year for solid rap releases. A$AP Rocky Beyoncé-ed us with a surprise album; Action Bronson put out a strong, ’80s-inspired effort; Towkio put out an uneven mixtape with some summer fun, Earl Sweatshirt got even more bleak and minimal and somehow better; Tyler, the Creator is doing Tyler, the Creator things to diminishing returns; and Kendrick Lemar fused Flying Lotus-esque acid-jazz-rap with Del tha Funkee Homosapien approved G-funk.
With the bevy of new tunes to listen to, I’ve also been listening to more old school rap, because modern hip-hop is steeped in homage. While revisiting some classics, I was struck by how frequently random family members, specifically uncles, received shout outs.
Obviously, a listicle was in order. With apologies to Uncle Murda, here is a ranking of my favorite hip-hop uncles.
3. Uncle Ray as mentioned by Jay-Z in “Pray”, “Big Chips” and “Moment of Clarity”
Jay-Z name checks his deceased uncle in several songs and mentions the impact of his death in the book, Decoded. In Decoded, Jay-Z identifies his uncle’s death as the catalyst for young Shawn Carter’s abandonment and subsequent drug dealing. Uncle Ray’s death is never mentioned in a positive light, and is actually pretty depressing, because his killer was never caught. Pretty easy to slot the upsetting cold case in at No. 3. Moving on.
2. Uncle Charles as mentioned by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
The lamentation, “I miss my Uncle Charles ya’ll,” is probably the most famous part of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s most famous song. It’s an absolute coup that ultimately, the man who inspired this list will not top the list. Apparently, Uncle Charles was absolutely a real person, and he was a driving force behind young Bone Thugs. The upsetting nature of his absence ultimately cost Charles some points, because I was hellbent on ending this list somewhat happily.
1. Uncle Darnell as mentioned by Big Boi in “ATLiens”
After two tragic, uncle-related entries, I’m ending on a lighthearted note. The absolutely random shout out to Uncle Darnell delivered by Big Boi is one of my favorite moments in Hip-Hop. Seemingly delivered solely to provide a rhyming word for listen Big Boi says, “Giving a shout out to my Uncle Darnell locked up in prison,” roughly a minute into Outkast’s seond album’s title track. As is most of ATLiens’ content, it comes out of left field while being simultaneously perfect. The best part is, Uncle Darnell is out of prison and tours with Big Boi. Uncle Darnell also feels passionately about Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s contributions to society.
Uncle Darnell is the best. Ya feel me?