It’s an age old tale, pun intended, still rapping after a certain age is childish and you should be over that by now. Blah blah blah. Hip Hop is a young man’s sport. You can’t compete with youth. You’re out of touch. You aren’t hip anymore. Grow up! The thing is hip hop has grown up. The kids that created the art form are now adults. Like most other genres hip hop has begun to spawn sub genres. Is now the time for Adult Contemporary Rap?
As the pioneers of the culture are basically seniors and the people that helped move it into pop music are rounding the corner to 50, raps about investing and taking care of your family are beginning to become normal. Few have been able to sustain as they age but much of those that fizzled out could be attributed to the lack of examples of how to navigate adult rap. Artists like JayZ and Nas have shown it’s possible.
How does that translate to the independent or mildly successful rapper? This month two highly respected and critically acclaimed artists released projects. One addressed the elephant in the room head on by making it the theme of his album. The other approached it in a passive, unspoken way. Both made great music in totally different ways. Big Will dropped The 40 Year Old Rapper & Ju came with Mini Vanz, respectively. Neither reached the level of Hov or Esco but as underground acts they’ve managed to maintain status and keep a core fan base happy throughout the years.
Big Will is obviously aware of the stigma of ageism in relation to hip hop and rather than make a bunch of songs to prove the statement wrong, he barely addressed the topic in the project. At least not directly or in a gimmicky way. Instead, I think he made songs that adults, men in particular, could identify with. Only a certain age group could appreciate the feelings expressed in The Source. Even people that don’t make music aspired to get 5 mics or at least wanted that for their favorite artists. Will writes from a place of acceptance, even peace. Coming from dangerous environments made growing old seem unrealistic and TFYOR is his way of expressing the appreciation for still being here, being able to rap even if it’s not as a superstar.
Adversely, Ju’s project comes off a bit darker. It almost sounds like survivor’s remorse. While it is technically listed as a group album with Tef Deezy & Asatheartist, the most prominent voice of the album is Ju. It’s reflective and soulful. Ju & Co. reminisce on times that seem simpler now but probably weren’t. Times with friends, family, & love lost. Mini Vanz is vulnerable but also gangsta. They rap about possible regrets from a tone of no regrets. Ju is undeniably an OG. His voice mirrors that. This project is like a big homie talking to the young boys about how it used to be, but not in a I’m washed now way. More like, let me teach you a lesson kid. It’s a collection of songs that any grown man from the streets can identify with down to the title.
Being mature doesn’t make you less gifted. Age doesn’t necessarily diminish your skill level. These two very different albums each speak to a different set of grown hip hop fans. Each has its wins and losses but both achieved what I believe was their goal. Hip hop was a young man’s game before only because there weren’t any old men to make or listen to it until now. Rap grew up just as it’s fans have. Many of the highly praised albums this year have been made by guys who might be considered “too old to rap.” Rap vets understand something about music most of the kids haven’t learned yet, cohesion. Too many albums are just a bunch of songs thrown together. No one takes time to curate them. But you can tell that the OGs are putting time into the music. From the theme to the mix, to skits and so on. Maybe that’s because of the era they came from, maybe it’s growth. Either way, age ain’t nuthin but a number. Rap is ageless. Do it as long as you’re able and passionate about it.