Kendrick Lamar with his mother, Paula Oliver

1. Kendrick Lamar, “Sherane AKA Master Splinter’s Daughter” (2012)

Phone messages from a couple posited as Kendrick Lamar’s parents snake their way through the Compton rapper’s major label debut, 2012’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, providing the album with a realistic dimension. The message at the end of “Sherane” sets the tone for Good Kid, leading Lamar into the complicated world he surveys for the album’s duration. His mom’s voice interrupts the singular sexual obsession with the song’s titular character, and Lamar is suddenly faced with a small mound of mounting problems: mouths to feed and no food stamps to help, Lamar’s growing involvement with street life, and even his inability to help out his family by returning his mother’s van. Lamar’s dad adds his complaints to the list: “This the second time I ask you to bring my fuckin’ Dominoes!” His father’s distracted complaints alleviate the tension of the phone call and hint at Lamar’s intuitive balance of his grim perspective of the systemic issues plaguing his hometown and pop-minded uplift. Lamar pulls it off with help from his parents’ messages asking for help. [Leor Galil]

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2. Pianos Become The Teeth, “I’ll Get By” (2011)

On his band’s second album, The Lack Long After, Pianos Become The Teeth vocalist Kyle Durfey dedicated the record to his father’s battle with multiple sclerosis. It’s a topic Durfey had covered on the band’s previous record, but with The Lack Long After he pulled no punches, ripping himself open and poring over every ugly emotion he’d been carrying around. The album’s closing track, “I’ll Get By,” ends on a comparatively upbeat note, as Durfey explains that, though he’s been emotionally battered by the loss, he’ll continue to press on. It’s as uplifting as a song about a parent dying can be, but it’s in the song’s final seconds when a voice mail from Durfey’s mother cracks in with her stating, “I hope you know how much he loved you. And I think you do” that the song’s message fully seeps in. It caps both the song and album, and gives a sliver of closure to an otherwise harrowing experience. [David Anthony]

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3. Chance The Rapper, “Everything’s Good (Good Ass Outro)” (2013)

The Chicago rapper’s breakthrough 2013 mixtape, Acid Rap, is fueled by love, and that’s most evident on the closing track, “Everything’s Good (Good Ass Outro).” It opens with a recording of a phone conversation between Chance and his father, Ken Williams-Bennett, while a mellow piano melody hangs in the background. What began as a mundane conversation quickly turns tender, with a small, affectionate “thank you” leading to Ken’s heartfelt message to his son: “I could never be more proud of anything in my life than I am of you and what you’ve done.” Like much of Acid Rap, Chance invites listeners to experience parts of his life that’s all to easy to keep private, and it’s the kind of personal touch that’s made his music resonate. [Leor Galil]

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4. Drake, “Look What You’ve Done” (2011)

The phone message from Drake’s grandmother on “Look What You’ve Done” isn’t what most people think of when it comes to recorded calls and 2011’s Take Care. That honor goes to “Marvin’s Room,” on which Drake samples a phone conversation he has with a drowsy woman he’s trying to woo. When the woman who claims she was on the other end of the line, Ericka Lee, sued Drake for unpaid royalties in 2012, it tipped the scale on the precarious emotional balance of “Marvin’s Room” (Drake settled out of court). Good thing Drake’s grandma comes through at the end of “Look What You’ve Done,” a song about sticking together through the best and worst of times that casts Drake in a positive light. “Remember the good times we’ve had together, and the times I used to look after you,” she says. Drake’s life has changed since those days, but at least his grandma still thinks he’s a good boy. [Leor Galil]

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5. G-Eazy, “Opportunity Cost” (2014)

When Gerald Gillum, a.k.a. G-Eazy, dropped his 2014 major label debut, These Things Happen, it went to No. 3 on the Billboard 200, fulfilling some of the grand statements of celebrity the rapper embraces. G-Eazy slaved away on the indie circuit to attain that level of success, and the album’s best moment comes when he hits pause on the self-worship on “Opportunity Cost” to consider what he’s sacrificed in order to achieve his rap dreams. The song’s glossy, wide-open instrumental feeds into G-Eazy’s desire to rap about the mansion pool parties and getting zonked while also providing enough room for him to pivot into more vulnerable material. G-Eazy is most open as he considers the pain of being away from home when his mom goes through surgery near the end of “Opportunity Cost.” The track ends with a phone message from G-Eazy’s mother, and she chokes back tears while telling her son how happy she is for his success: With that moment G-Eazy pulls off a tricky mixture of exuberance and woe that otherwise would’ve felt unearned. [Leor Galil]

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6. The Obsessives, “Bored” (2015)

When you move away from home, whether it’s to work, attend college, or tour with a Philadelphia punk band, relationship problems can make you feel especially lonely. For many young people, it’s the first time they don’t have their parents there to lend an ear, the first time they don’t have someone directly in the other room to listen to them when something falls apart. The Obsessives nail this sense of cold estrangement on their debut album, Heck No, Nancy, with the song “Bored.” Over two minutes and 11 seconds, singer Nick Bairatchnyi dreads the onset of entropy—an inevitable force that eats away the luster of so many new romances. But as if making a Hail Mary for solace, the band drops a voice mail from drummer Jackson Mansfield’s mother into the end of the track: “Hey Jax, it’s Mom. I saw you called. I’m out for a walk. I’m nowhere near the house. I don’t know how you’re getting home. I’m assuming you have a plan.” The words themselves aren’t comforting (quite the opposite, actually), but her calm and assured tone is. Sometimes it just takes a parent’s voice to help one get over something, even if that voice is giving you a swift yet measured kick in the ass. [Dan Caffrey]

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7. Big Sean, “One Man Can Change The World” (2015)

Because grandparents tend to live farther away and their love often feels more no-strings-attached than your own parents, it’s easy to take them for granted. It’s easy to forget to call them because you can always do it next week. It’s easy to forget because they’re always there. Until they’re not. Big Sean felt this after the loss of his own grandmother, who, in addition to raising him alongside his mother, was one of the first black female captains in World War II. Six months after she died, he honored her proper with “One Man Can Change The World,” a mournful tribute that becomes uplifting when threaded together by John Legend’s piano and uncredited backing vocals from Natasha Bedingfield. But the heartstrings really start to yank at the lump in your throat during the final moments of the song, when a phone conversation between Grandma and Big Sean shows how close they are: “Thank you for calling me and just thinking about me,” she tells him. It seems she didn’t take him for granted either. [Dan Caffrey]

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8. Bloodhound Gang, “Mama’s Boy”/“Three Point One Four” (1999)

A song that relies largely on how hard it is to find words that rhyme with “vagina” doesn’t seem like a suitable place for anyone’s mother—unless they’re the mother of Jimmy Pop. As one half of the brain trust behind the Bloodhound Gang, Pop has forged an entire career out of being profane, offensive, and—at times—very funny. And when listening to the phone conversation with his mom that leads right into “Three Point One Four,” it becomes clear that he’s embodied these traits ever since he was a kid. When Pop asks her for rhyming suggestions, she doesn’t balk at his vulgarity, but instead offers some solutions. “Like lima bean?” she says sweetly, before wondering if he should use a word other than “vagina.” Only when he rattles off a string of slang words for the body part does she scold him. But even then, there’s a hint of resigned amusement in her voice, showing that this kind of grossness has been a vital part of their relationship for years. [Dan Caffrey]

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9. Ben Folds Five, “Your Most Valuable Possession” (1999)

A jazzy track that features a voice mail left by Ben Folds’ half-asleep dad, “Your Most Valuable Possession” marks one of the artistic high points of Ben Folds Five’s 1999 record, The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner. Both confusing and beautiful, Dean Folds’ voice mail reminds his son to take care of his “most valuable possession”: his mind. Over funky bass lines and swooping organ, Folds ponders whether or not astronauts can exercise their minds, lest they lose too much brain mass in space. While the actual recording is the aural equivalent of a bedside note scribbled hastily at 4 a.m. and rendered illegible in the morning, it’s still clear that Papa Folds is full of love for his son, who he charmingly refers to as “Mr. Ben.” [Marah Eakin]

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