How Nick Cannon's great-grandmother inspired empowerment anthem: 'She told me she was disappointed in me'

Lyndsey Parker
Yahoo Music

Nick Cannon is known for the raunchy humor of MTV’s Wild ‘n Out and singles like “Gigolo,” “Feelin’ Freaky,” and “Dime Piece.” But for his new track, “Motivation,” released during International Women’s Month, he was inspired to go in a surprisingly serious direction, after having an eye-opening conversation with an important woman in his life, Corinne Cannon.

“I was challenged by my 98-year-old great-grandmother, who actually told me she was disappointed in me, with a lot of the choice words and choice content that I was putting forth, and it wasn’t a reflection of the grandson that she has grown to know and love,” Nick tells Yahoo Entertainment. “I mean, if you listen to some of my other lyrics, or even if you pay attention to Wild ‘n Out … there’s a misogynistic nature in hip-hop that I subscribe to from time to time. And my 98-year-old grandmother probably isn’t too keen on certain terminology and subject matters. My current music video [for ‘Only You,’ featuring Fat Joe and DJ Luke Nasty], I shot in a strip club, you know what I’m saying?

“She had a real conversation with me, and I bowed down and said, ‘You’re absolutely right.’ She gave me some points of reminding me that I have a 6-year-old daughter, and I don’t always want to have to turn the radio down when Daddy’s music comes on.”

The Cannon family matriarch — whom Nick describes as “firing on all cylinders; she’s online, she still sells Avon” — sat Nick down and told him, “You were put here to inspire. You have a gift, and [you should] use it.” So he decided to set Corinne’s message to music — and he even cast her in his self-directed and self-shot “Motivation” video, in which she dispenses nuggets of wisdom like “You don’t have to have someone else to make you know who you are.” Many other strong black women over age 80, including Holly Robinson Peete’s mother and basketball player Chris Paul’s grandmother, also appear.

“I put a camera in front of [Corinne] and said, ‘I want you to say these exact same things and inspire these young women out there too,'” Nick recalls.

Nick Cannon (Photo: Jonavennci Divad)
Nick Cannon (Photo: Jonavennci Divad)

Nick is currently working on his supermodel-inspired next album, Model Music, out later this year, and while that record will have a sexier, clubbier vibe, he’s not worried about Corinne’s disapproval. “I think it’s all about balance,” he explains. “[‘Motivation’] was my rebuttal to my great-grandmother. It wasn’t about like, ‘Oh, I’m going to change’; I’d be somewhat foolish to think that I could change the course of hip-hop, as well as even my own creative process, just based off of one conversation, because to me art is supposed to be honest and true and a reflection of the society we live in. I am a person, I go to strip clubs — but I’m also a motivational speaker at times! It’s an interesting dichotomy of an artist.”

However, Cannon — who attends Howard University when he’s not working on music and his many entertainment, entrepreneurial, and activism endeavors — is always trying to better himself, and he hopes for the same for his twins, who are lucky enough to have a great-great-grandmother in their lives. He realizes that his daughter Monroe will face some of the same problems that Corinne has struggled with over the past nine decades, but he’s optimistic about her future.

Nick Cannon with daughter Monroe (Photo: Getty Images)
Nick Cannon with daughter Monroe (Photo: Getty Images)

“When I think of my daughter, I get really sensitive to this, but it’s about equipping her with the essential tools to be the best her in life, and that she has that opportunity to do that,” Cannon says. “I want her to go up against everything. I want her to have all the challenges in the world, because I know it’s only going to make her stronger in that sense. … I pray that my daughter taps into her inner strength and understands that any opportunity that’s placed in front of her, she can overcome it, thrive in it, succeed, and that there’s going be things like everybody is not going to like you. Everybody’s not going to agree with you. Some people are going to be mean to you. Some people are going to be envious of you. But don’t let that feed into your energy. Don’t allow anyone to steal your joy. Don’t let anyone alter your conquest. That’s what I tell her.”

Watch Nick Cannon’s entire Facebook Live interview, in which he discusses his marriage to Mariah Carey, his battle with lupus, his philanthropy, his music, his pursuit of higher education, and more, in the video below.

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