The Age Game: XXL Looks Back at Rappers' Breakout Years


Hip-hop, like any other musical genre, is an extremely tough industry to break into. Some MCs start their careers off with a bang, becoming stars with their very first single. But for many it takes years of grinding, networking and honing their particular sound to finally get noticed. Once a rapper does get on, it may take even longer to score their first hit. With that in mind, XXLMag.com takes a look back at some of rap’s most prominent stars to see how old they were when they finally made it big, counting upwards from 17 all the way to 39-years-old. Who said age ain’t nuthin’ but a number? —Jesse Gissen



Souljah Boy’s was still a minor when he scored his biggest hit to-date, the No. 1 charting single on the Billboard Hot 100, “Crank That (Soulja Boy).”



Cube was barely legal when N.W.A and the Posse pissed off the Feds and turned hip-hop on its head.



Rakim defined the essence of hip-hop while he was still only a teenager, with the release of his classic debut album, Paid in Full, along with his DJ, Eric B.



Big Daddy Kane was still too young to buy a 40 oz of Olde English when he dropped his first album, the seminal LP, Long Live the Kane.



Most rappers have nothin' on Bob. He was only 21 when he dropped his pop friendly, smash album, B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray in 2010. How does that make you feel?



The Notorious B.I.G. was only 22-years-old when his multi-platinum selling debut, Ready to Die, came out, but he sounded like he had already lived a lifetime.



After building a steady buzz touring the college circuit, Wiz Khalifa (who would have already graduated had he decided to attend school) began his relationship with major label Atlantic Records, by giving them a chart-topping hit and Pittsburg Steelers anthem, “Black & Yellow.”



Lupe Fiasco kick pushed his way onto the scene with a co-sign by Jay-Z and a catchy ode to skateboarding that helped the 24-year-old’s first solo LP, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor, comfortably roll into a slot on the Top 10 on Billboard album charts.



While Lil Wayne has had his share of success before the release of Tha Carter III, the insane buzz leading up to the disc, which resulted in him selling over a million CDs in its first-week, catapulted the 25-years-young rap vet into the stratosphere.



At 26, Eminem had already dealt with his fair share of life’s struggles, like raising a daughter with no money in a trailer park. But his remaining angst, “I Just Don’t Give A Fuck” attitude, shared skin complexion with his listeners and, of course, beats by Dr. Dre, made the Detroit lyricist’s major label debut, The Slim Shady LP an irresistible sell.


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50 Cent had a second chance at life when he survived nine gunshots. But after a failed relationship with Columbia Records, Eminem gave him his second chance in the music business when he signed the G-Unit honcho to Shady Records. The young hustler from Queens took the opportunity and ran with it, dropping his seminal LP, Get Rich or Die Trying when he was only 27, which jump started both his career as a rapper and entrepreneur.



Jay-Z wasn’t considered one of the big boys, until he scored his first No. 1 album, 1998’s Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life at 28. Thanks to a clever sample from the hit musical. Annie, on his breakthrough single, “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” Hov also racked up his first crossover hit that made its way to the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, his highest ranking single up until that point.



Gucci Mane flirted with popularity at 25 with his underground hit, “Icy,” but he really hit it big four-years later with “Wasted” off The State vs. Radric Davis. That same year, 2009, everyone from the Black Eyed Peas to Mario to Mariah Carey was knocking on his door for a guest verse.



Jim Jones might have been on the same court as the players, rollin’ with Cam’ron and the rest of Dipset since the 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2006 that he was truly Ballin’, thanks to his solo smash hit, “We Fly High (Ballin’).” Wavy!



Some say three times is the charm, but for Fat Joe, the lucky number was four. The Bronx bomber finally went platinum with the release of his fourth album, 2001’s Jealous One’s Still Envy (J.O.S.E), thanks to his collabo with Ashanti, “What’s Luv” the rapper’s biggest single to-date.



Uncle Bun was already a certified OG in the South when he released his debut solo effort, Trill. The album made the Texas legend a household name to rap fans around the world and earned him the only gold plaque that he didn’t have to share with his late UGK rap partner, Pimp C.



Com didn’t reach his full potential as a star until he connected with fellow Chi-Town native Kanye West for 2005’s Be, the rapper’s most critically heralded and highest selling CD thus far.



With more certified street bangers and radio hits under his belt in the last 12 months than over his entire five-year career—and arguably any other rapper in 2011—XXL’s October 2011 issue cover boy is undeniably having his best year ever. Only time will tell if Rozay’s God Forgives, I Don’t LP finally earns the 34-year-old MC membership into the platinum club.



Guru has been one of hip-hop most respect MCs for years. Although he already dropped four albums as Gang Starr before, as well as his solo Jazzmatazz series, the DJ Premier and the Guru didn’t finally earn a well deserved first gold album until 1998’s Moment of Truth.



You couldn’t tell Tech N9ne fans he wasn’t the biggest star on the planet, but the rest of the world finally caught on this year, with even Lil Wayne giving the independent powerhouse a spot on Tha Carter IV. Who said hip-hop was a young man’s sport?