18. 2Pac, 'Dear Mama'
Me Against the World, 1995
"The emotional, the sad songs, were his personal favorites," said Johnny J, one of the late Tupac Shakur's producers. There was always a plaintive side to 2Pac's thug-life tales, and he foregrounded the pathos on his 1995 ballad tribute to his mother, Afeni Shakur. The song is the ne plus ultra of hip-hop odes to Mom. Tony Pizarro's beat, with its plush Seventies soul samples, sets a tender mood, and the rhymes strike a similar note: "I appreciate how you raised me/And all the extra love that you gave me." But "Dear Mama" hits harder for its warts-and-all realism, as 2Pac doesn't shy from describing his own failings, his pain over his absent father and his mother's struggle with drug addiction: "And even as a crack fiend, Mama/You always was a black queen, Mama."