From “Dear Mama” to “Daughters,” the topic of parenting has brought Hip-Hop some of it’s most poignant work. We remember Beanie Sigel unleashing a tidal wave of frustration on “Where Have You Been.” We also remember Kanye kneeling down onstage, barely able to perform “Hey Mama” after his mother died. Hell, we remember half of Eminem’s catalog. How many of these artists have broached the topic without relying on words though?
Bay Area Producer Cole James Cash did just that with his latest instrumental LP, A Letter To My Son. The wildly inventive Cash is the father of a five-year-old son, who the eight-track project is entirely dedicated to. With titles such as “Be Your Own Man” and “Love Your Woman As You Love Yourself,” every song on the album is a life lesson the producer wants to impart upon his son—and by proxy any misguided males who happen to listen. Each track (except the finale) begins with Cash briefly speaking to his son, then allowing his atmospheric soundscape to convey the rest of his emotions.
A producer and DJ, Cash says the sonic DNA of the album is, “a combination of me playing the keyboard and having a ton of obscure drum and bass, house and techno records.” The album was crafted in August 2014, right after Cash had left a rehab center for a prescription pill addiction. During that period, Cash was traveling between Texas and LA, creating his lauded BBW: A Pornographic Opera project.
“Somebody introduced me to [singer] Kali Uchi, and [producer] XXYYXX,“ Cash recalls. “They were playing their music, and it was very dreamlike. I thought about it: my roots are in house music. Why don’t I do something that has an electronic feel to it?”
Shortly thereafter, Cash received thematic inspiration for the project when Mike Brown was murdered by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson. Along with the murder of Eric Garner, Brown’s unwarranted killing instilled an anger in Cash. “I don’t see how any Black man couldn’t be hurt over that. Mike Brown is somebody’s child and look what happened [to him],” Cash says.
Cash subsequently created “Hands Up,” a powerful commentary on police brutality with Texas Rap duo Crew54. “We were all frustrated, because no matter what happened with Mike Brown he didn’t deserve to be shot,” Cash laments. “How is it that Mike Brown is dead but Dylann Roof–who shot up a church–is in prison?
Though “Hands Up,” is the final track of the project, it was the first completed. Cash crafted the rest of A Letter To My Son within one week. Like his previous works, Cash’s compositions told the full story. The melodies that could have been crooned by a singer were crafted from his keyboard. Sentiments that other artists may have fused into introspective bars were spoken through evocative vocal chops—such as on “November 1st 2010” and “If You Fall I Will Pick You Back Up.”
“I can’t rap,” Cash says.“All my emotions are expressed through a nonverbal or abstract sense of musicality. Its easy for me. I think about how I want it, and the emotions that I’m feeling, and I try to convey them as best as i can. [Listeners can] listen to the melody, listen to the syncopation, and it’ll tell you everything that I’m trying to draw in emotionally.”
On A Letter To My Son, Cash wanted to convey unconditional love to his child. “I’m telling my son no matter what happens , this is how I feel about you. This is how much I love you.” Cash was in part inspired by not hearing similar sentiment from his biological father, but he has no hard feelings:
“My grandmother died when [my dad] was seven years old. My dad grew up taking ass whoopings from my grandfather and they really dislike each other. My dad never learned how to love. How could he ever truly love me, if he got nothing but hate from his father and didn’t grow up with a sympathetic mother figure to counteract that?”
Unfortunately, derivatives of that cycle are all-too common in the Black and Brown community. According to the National KIDS COUNT Data Center, 67% of Black children and 42% of Hispanic or Latino children are raised in single-parent homes.
“A lot of these niggas didn’t have dads so they get used to the idea of not having one. Sometimes, with their own kids they learn the same neglect that they got from their father. You learn from your parents whether they’re there or not.”
A Letter To my Son has many lessons from which Cash’s son can learn from, but for now he’s content to let him be a kid. “I don’t force [my music] on him, he likes little Nickelodeon and pop songs. Right now, he’s just a little five-year-old kid trying to do the Nae Nae.”
So when does Cash plan to let his son hear the project?
“I want him to discover it. I get posters made of all my album covers. [Eventually], he’s gonna ask, what is that? He wont have to look far.”