Undeniably one of the greatest vocalists in the history of soul music—or popular music, for that matter—the legendary Donny Hathaway died tragically at the way-too-young age of 33 in an apparent suicide on January 13, 1979, leaving a monumental void in the world of music. His creative spirit lives on, thankfully, through his incredible recorded repertoire, as well as through his daughter and multi-dimensionally gifted singer-songwriter, Lalah Hathaway.
This past fall, following her guest contributions on Kendrick Lamar’s modern masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly, Hathaway released her wonderful Lalah Hathaway Live album. The performance includes her faithful interpolation of her father’s poignant inner-city coming-of-age anthem “Little Ghetto Boy,” which originally featured on his memorable 1972 Live LP. And though Hathaway has been making gorgeous sounds for more than twenty-five years now, her stellar live album is yet another welcome reminder of just how closely her voice resembles her father’s unforgettable baritone.
Now, nearly three months later, Hathaway has blessed us with an updated version of the cover, which features Snoop Dogg’s meticulous rhymes, Robert Glasper’s graceful piano strokes, and multi-instrumentalist Terrace Martin’s masterful production. The collaboration with Long Beach’s finest emcee makes a whole lot of sense, considering that one of Snoop Dogg’s earliest verses appeared on Dr. Dre’s “Lil Ghetto Boy” from the iconic producer’s The Chronic (1992). Not to mention that Hathaway’s rendition of Sade’s “Cherish the Day” featured on Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio (2012) and her cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Jesus Children of America” on the follow-up effort Black Radio 2 snagged the Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Performance. And if that’s not enough cross-pollination for you, Snoop and Hathaway both contributed to Martin’s 2013 single “I’m for Real,” the continuation of a fruitful partnership between Snoop and Martin.
Within the broader sociocultural context of the vital #BlackLivesMatter movement and the tragic recent events that justify its existence, the song offers powerful commentary about the complexities of growing up Black in contemporary America. With an obvious nod to his verse on Dre’s “Lil’ Ghetto Boy,” Snoop opens the track by rhyming “Woke up, jumped out my bed / CNN, another Black brother dead / Feet to the pedal / Life don’t matter when you’re born in the ghetto / Settle, compassion, gang sign flashin’ / neighborhood clashin’ Broad day blastin’ / Killin’ the youth is a fashion / And now they wonder why we marchin’ / like in the 60s with Malcolm and Martin.” A stirring soliloquy, indeed.
Check out the Hakim Franc directed clip below, which also includes a cameo by the acclaimed jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington, and be sure to dig deeper into Lalah Hathaway’s musical repertoire, if you haven’t already.
BUY Lalah Hathaway’s “Ghetto Boy” via iTunes