You’re like the sun, moon and the stars, only you’re more / And it’s hard, baby I got a career and it’s raw / And sometimes I gotta tour just to open up doors / But I swear I’d rather take care of you and be poor / Than to be rich without you, and your belly is sore
-Termanology, “Circle of Life”
When Termanology first started to rap about being a responsible father and how much he adores his daughter, hip-hop had hardly arrived at a moment in which it was exactly commonplace for an artist to rep parenthood. The genre had some precedents that stood as outliers—most notably, “Be a Father To Your Child,” the 1991 classic by Boston legend Ed O.G., plus a few others like “Joy” by Talib Kweli (2002) and “To Zion” by Lauryn Hill (1998)—but the topic basically ended on those notes. So when Term, who was then just poking his head above the underground circuit, dropped “Circle of Life” in 2006, it was quite beyond the ordinary.
By 2015, Term was the proud father of two girls—his first daughter, Aaliyah, who was born closer to the start of his career in 2004, and also Reminisce, another blessing who inspired him to double down on not just dadhood, but on spreading the word about his being a parent in hip-hop. Beyond tracks and lines about his kids, he also started printing shirts that said Good Dad Gang. The rest is retail history, and so we asked the internationally known, Lawrence-bred MC to take us for a trip down memory lane for Father’s Day.
What was the situation when you first became a father? Were any of your friends dads yet at that time?
No. There’s 10 of us in [St. Da Squad], and I was first. Everyone was saying, How are you going to do it with the rap stuff? And I just said, Watch, watch me do it.
You were well-known for getting on those buses to New York, going the extra mile, and doing whatever it took to get noticed in the music industry. How did you balance that with being a new dad?
I just had to make the time, but also I had to make sure that I got to the studio. On weekends, they would sometimes go to their mom’s and I would go to the studio the whole time.
In terms of hip-hop songs about being a father, there’s obviously Ed O.G., as well as some other examples, but would you agree that this was a topic that hadn’t exactly been explored very much in the genre?
I never really thought about it until I had a kid, and it was just something that I started to take seriously. I love my kids a lot.
What was it like to write a song like “Circle of Life”? And to put those kinds of emotions on record?
It was one of the first ones of its kind. Xzibit had a song about his kid, and I remember thinking that was so cool. When I wrote “Circle of Life,” it was just so real to me. It was a struggle—we had the daughter when we were young, with her living at her mom’s house and me living at my mom’s house. Having a kid under those circumstances is rough. It was an ode, a promise that I’m always gonna be here for you.
It’s a really special song, but it also came out right when I was in the middle of breaking out. I had certain people in my corner who were trying to help me blow up, and they were like, This ain’t it, man. Oh, I get it, you love your kid and stuff, but you can’t lead with this single. They thought it was too long for the radio, they didn’t like that it had a long horn part on it, but I fought for it, like, We’re putting this out there. We had other joints for the streets and for the underground, but I wanted it. In the years since, a lot of people have come up to me and said they really love “Circle of Life.”
And that’s been the reaction for the most part?
Yeah, all the time. Sometimes people will come up crying. One time in London, I was buying sneakers with DJ Deadeye and some kid comes running up saying, “‘Circle of Life,’ ‘Circle of Life.’ I can’t see my kid and I love her so much. I listen to that song all the time. It really reminds me of me and my daughter.”
How did you go from making some of these songs to coming up with the concept for Good Dad Gang?
I made one shirt four years ago. Then I started hashtagging #GoodDadGang on Sundays—I always try to make that day to chill with the kids. Then it started catching on, and people started writing in the comments like, Hey, you should make more shirts. So I did, and I put ’em on the ’Gram, and people just flooded the comments, I want this color, that color. Right away I got like 40 requests. Then I made 200, and I ran through those 200 in a week. I didn’t know if it was a genius idea or not, but nobody had anything like it. I got the Facebook, Twitter, all of it. It took a little while to get everything in order, but I did it.
What’s it like being the driving force behind this sort of business and taking on all the entrepreneurial aspects?
It’s a job. Even last night, I was up until 5 o’clock in the morning in my office packing like 100 boxes. It’s crazy, especially around Father’s Day and Christmas. I’m in the middle of finding a bigger fulfillment situation because it’s getting out of control at this point.
Where do you go from here with something like this?
We used to just have T-shirts and hats, and now we also have jackets and jerseys. We do pop-ups, and we also do a backpack giveaway every fall. We always do that in Lawrence, which is the poorest city in Massachusetts. Last year we gave away 500 backpacks, but this year we’re going to try and make it even bigger. I’d like to make it into a tour and do it in other cities too.
How much of a help has it been having so many major hip-hop artists who you are friends with co-sign the idea and the gear?
When I started it, some people were resisting it. Being a dad is a weird thing for tough guys. Now it’s getting cooler, it’s opened up, but when I started the brand I don’t feel it was like that. It worked for my benefit. In the beginning, I was fighting the fight, but some of the most street dudes that I know are also some of the best fathers that I know, and other people feel that way too.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.