Hip-Hop Artist Uses Music to Showcase the Beauty of Black Fatherhood Through Song
While the vast majority of heartfelt pop songs center around romantic love, plenty of memorable lyrics have been inspired by parenthood. For hip-hop, soul, and electronic musician and dad of two Pierce Freelon, the focal point of his new album, D.a.D, is family life. The album, which is out on July 31, was inspired by Freelon's journey through fatherhood.
Freelon tells Parents.com, "D.a.D is inspired by my 11-year journey as a father and by my own awesome dad, Phil Freelon, who passed away last year. It's a living, breathing, collage of precious family moments, parenting lessons and words of wisdom. It is a product of evolving technologies, being used to express age-old expressions of joy, abundance, and love."
Freelon, who is also a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was motivated to record the album as a way to celebrate Black dads, who he would like to see represented more frequently in the media. "I want the world to know that that Black fathers matter," he shares. "George Floyd was the father of a 6-year-old little girl named GiGi, and if the police officer that killed him thought of him as a nurturing, loving, caring human being, perhaps he would still be alive today. Children develop perceptions about identity and race at a very young age, so if we’re going to change negative stereotypes and misconceptions about Black folks, we need more children’s music artists who look like me—who play video games, kiss scraped knees, fly around in imaginary space ships and remind you to floss."
The first single off of the album is called "Daddy Daughter Day." Featuring Freelon's daughter Stella, the musician describes the track as "a celebration of fatherhood and daughterhood." The music video for the track, which debuted just before Father's Day, also showcases Black-owned businesses around Durham, North Carolina, where Freelon and his family reside.
Of the video, Freelon says, "I drew inspiration from Matthew A. Cerry’s Academy Award-winning short film Hair Love, which depicts a Black father struggling to do his young daughter’s hair. This film was striking to me because, after watching it, I realized that I had never seen myself—a Millennial Black man with locs and tattoos, who is also a nurturing father—depicted in a Disney/Pixar-style film before. Media representation matters. This realization brought me to tears and reinforced my conviction to spread more positive images of Black fathers as caregivers, as hair-doers, as child-rearers."
The second single, "My Body," co-written and performed with vocalist Rissi Palmer, explores the subject of consent culture. "It’s important to start equipping children with language that reinforces their sense of power and ownership over there own bodies," says Freelon.
The album is also the product of Freelon exploring his relationship with his late father, a prominent architect who designed the Smithsonian Museum of African-American history and Culture in Washington, D.C. "So much of this album is inspired by and dedicated to his incredible legacy as a father and artist," says Freelon. "He got to hear some of the music before he passed away, and his voice appears on the album in one of the voice memos, between songs."
Freelon's love of music dates back to childhood, as his mother Nnenna Freelon, a Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist, would bring her son and his two older siblings with her to gigs. "Music came naturally to me," he shares. "I wrote poems in my journal and memorized the lyrics to my favorite rap songs. I loved writing, singing and performing. In college, I started a band, taught myself how to write songs and make beats and the rest is history."
Freelon also took to creating other media, as well. He previously co-directed The History of White People in America, a musical animated series that looks at race in the United States and premiered on PBS World and Independent Lens this month.
Now, through D.a.D, Freelon has created "a collage, a quilt, a testament to the Black fatherhood that we need to see more images of in this world, especially in this time, when there's so much Black death and pain," as he told his nearly 8K followers on Instagram. He continued, "I thought now would be a good time to create an intentional space where we can uplift Black fathers and celebrate Black family and Black joy."
Freelon also hopes that if one day, his young fans grow up to pursue law enforcement, they'll remember listening to D.a.D. "When they see a young Black man driving down the street with locs and tattoos, their implicit bias will kick in," he imagines. "And they’ll think to themselves, with love and admiration their heart: 'That looks like the guy who sang me to sleep every night.'"
To that end, Freelon encourages parents to seek out amazing, diverse voices for their families to listen to, noting, "A broader spectrum of voices makes for a more powerful, beautiful and enduring chorus, right?"