I admit, I’ve been on the side of the argument where I’m begging for some of these older rappers to give it up already. I think we’ve all been there at some point. From a critic’s standpoint, it’s pretty easy to call that shot. Like XXL’s Jesse Gissen did yesterday.
It’s obvious by now that there are a million over the hill rappers, dudes who had their run and now need to exit the game quietly. They’re too busy trying to get their Mickey Rourke on, word to The Wrestler, and need to face the reality that nobody wants to hear them rap.
Or do they?
Think about it. Kids these days don’t really know shit about anything. I’m not even saying that in an “old head” way. Reality is, a lot of the stylistic elements which make up hip-hop have been co-opted by pop and mainstream artists. And a lot of the culture’s other aspects– the fashion, the talk, the walk.. etc– has gone mainstream as well. It’s to the point where nobody really knows what’s real and what’s not, what’s authentic, what’s some made up fantasy rap, and so on. Hip-hop is just a part of our lives at this point. But note that culture is very disposable in modern times.
The older hip-hop generation, however, they didn’t grow up like that. They have different standards, and music and hip-hop culture mean something different to them. They grew up having to go to record stores to purchase music. They grew up when this culture was still transitioning into what it is today, so it’s not just some added accessory to their everyday life. Artists like Grandmaster Flash, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, Ice-T, Naughty By Nature, Too-Short, Cypress Hill, the Beastie Boys, Busta Rhymes, Hov… they may be over the hill, but they really mean something to people’s lives.
In New York, where we don’t have anything even resembling a relevant rap scene anymore (except for the hipster sect, basically), you go to a Wu-Tang or Slick Rick concert, and who do you see? For the most part it’s a bunch of twenty and thirty somethings. Maybe a few adventurous younger kids, cats who are really into rap and stuff. Future XXL journalists, ha!
I say all this to say, I’m 26 years old. Not old, but not getting any younger. If Cypress Hill were to retire, or Naughty By Nature, for example, who am I going to go see perform to make me jump around like a maniac and recall my more youthful days?
I think not.
Point being, we’ve got a handful of dudes right now who make good music, and maybe two or three who make music that people really love. Then there’s a whole bunch of shitty ass rappers who need to hang themselves by a mic cord. Should we wait around for the handful of good artist to make LPs? Yes. But while we’re waiting, we fuck with other genres of music, and the great artists who did it big in the past. Like, when I was growing up I didn’t know shit about rap from the 80s, but I did my homework and embraced the acts that made that appealed to me. I think that’s what any free-thinking person with a brain would do. Perhaps not though.
We need older rappers to keep doing it, to keep making music, even if the shit don’t sell, and to keep hitting the road and performing for guys like me, who love old artists just as much as the new ones (at least the ones who are good). We’re called, fans. We may not even want to hear said rappers new music, we just want to hear their past hits, but that doesn’t mean they should stop recording.
A a perfect analogy would be, what if I told a writer, hey man, you’re too old to write. Yo Roger Ebert, you’re too old to critique movies, move the fuck over so some young dude who may not do it any better than you, but is younger, can write about movies.
Does Roger Ebert stop writing at that point?
You can’t expect anyone who does something even remotely creative to just pack it in and call it a career. No rapper is just going to retire and chill with the wife and kids. A performer’s going to perform as long as there are gigs to be had. And a recording artist is going to record until their voice is gone, and their muscles no longer allow them to play their instrument.
If newer guys like Lupe and Saigon threaten retirement, it’s not because they don’t want to make rap music anymore. It’s that the whole dog and pony show that surrounds this business is enough to make anyone want to bail, especially when the business model itself is broken and it’s nearly impossible to make any money. Plus what is expected of rappers nowadays is so generic, it’s not even something that an artist can get their creative nut off doing, because they’ve got to dumb it down so much in order to please the people and the powers that be.
But overall, I wouldn’t expect anyone who claims retirement in rap to actually go through with it. Other than, ya’know, dudes who just got in the game for a quick check and that’s it. And those cats don’t retire so much as just lack the talent to sustain a career in the first place.