“Fifty years down the line you can start this, because we’ll be the old school artists..” KRS-One, “Still #1″(1988)
“There’s nothing sexy about a 40 year-old rapper. It’s a young man’s sport. I intend to say what I need to say with my records and then be done with it.” - Xzibit
What makes hip-hop different from R&B, Jazz, Rock, Pop and other genres of music? We’re the only ones that want to die young.
Over the past few weeks I’ve observed a disturbing trend where an “us” verse “them” dynamic has been set-up between younger and older rappers. Now understand that I use the term “young” loosely because some of the combatants aren’t all that “young” themselves, just relative to their targets.
40 Rappers That Are Near Or over 40
My beef isn’t so much with the individual artists taking pot shots at their hip-hop elders, that comes with the territory, but more so the general consensus that rappers aren’t allowed to age gracefully. Once some magical age has been reached you are no longer considered hip-hop and need to hang up your mic.
I’m probably extra sensitive to this as my 35th birthday nears and I am very much still a huge fan of hip-hop. But if I can still be a fan, why can’t the artists I grew up with still do what they love?
Jay-Z vs Autotune
Jay-Z’s “D.O.A” got some youngstas saggy skinny jeans in a bunch and the backlash has been “Oh, well Jay-Z’s old.” No one had a problem when Jay told ya’ll to stop driving 4.0 Range Rovers (as if most of us could afford them in the first place) or to swap $300 throwback jerseys for more affordable button-ups. But now that he’s attacking a trend that everyone has abused it’s “go back to the old age home.” Rapper The Game has started waving the age flag as part of his career resuscitation campaign jabbing that, “No one on the corner got swagger like you, cuz no one on the corner is 42.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that Jay-Z is old enough to comment on what’s going on in hip-hop because Pac and Biggie aren’t alive to give their thoughts. We’re so quick to pour out liquor for “fallen soldiers” but turn around and crap on the living for living too long. We pull them out of storage and dust them off for VH1 Hip-Hop Honors and stick them back on the shelf when the cameras are off.
Hate all you want, but I eagerly await the day that a 60 year-old Chuck D has a Bill Cosby senior moment. The way Hip-Hop is going in twenty years it’ll be acceptable for dudes to rock glitter and baby hair and I really want a 50 year-old T.I. to lay his pimp hand down on the first dude to remake Lil Mama’s “Lip Gloss.”
Joe Budden vs. Old(er) Rappers
“Who has heard Melle Mel rap…RECENTLY?” – Joe Budden
By now everyone reading this has heard about the on-again-off-again feud between Joe Budden and Method Man/Inspektah Deck/Melle Mel. The entire exchange is too silly to regurgitate here but one of the statements Joe made about Hall of Fame inductee Grandmaster Melle Mel bothered me more than his comments about Meth. Why? Because rappers in general, not just Joe, have little reverence for those that came before them, but in other genres of music you never see this happen. You would never hear Ne-Yo saying (even before he passed) “Who has heard Michael Jackson sing, recently?” John Mayer would never fix his face to say “Who has heard Eric Clapton play, RECENTLY?” But hip-hop artists feel it’s ok to diss our legends in some misguided attempt to legitimize their talent. I hate to break it to them but very few rappers born after 1980 can hope to achieve what Melle Mel has. Not because they are inherently wack, (I personally think Slaughterhouse is the best rap group to come out in years) but because the game has changed too much. It’s just like no one will ever break Michael Jackson’s Thriller album sales record. That one is in the books forever.
And maybe that is the problem. Maybe new(er) rappers are so bent on making their own mark that the only way they can overshadow the accomplishments of their precursors is to call them old and irrelevant. But I guarantee that every one of these new rappers would like to be able to sell concert tickets in their late 30s and 40s because not all of you are going to become actors. Not all of you are going to sell Vitamin Water. You will need this rap shit to eat when you get a little long in the tooth.
Should every artist over 40 still making music do it? No. Some of them are really just bad, or have run out of steam. However, there are many that folks still want to hear from. Just check out Rock The Bells or Funk Master Flex’s recent shows at BB Kings in New York for proof. While I too have wavered in my support from time time-to-time, I’ve recently had my faith bolstered. When I heard Rakim’s new track “Holy Are You” from his long-awaited Seventh Seal, all I could do was smile. From the lyrics to the beat it was vintage Ra just the way I remembered him. I was glad he didn’t retire.
I was glad he didn’t die.
“Who has heard Rakim rap…recently?”
I have.Thank God.
For all of our sakes, hip-hop needs to grow up. to be ALLOWED to grow up.