Rap is the only genre of music where its denizens do not age gracefully. There comes a time where those gaudy, overpriced diamond chains look rather ridiculous on a quinquagenarian, and rapping about an imaginary drug emporium is a bit unbelievable when it comes from the mouth of a 40-year-old. Most rapsters jump in the game as optimistic spitkickers, then devolve into bitter curmudgeons that make songs about how wack rap has become instead of doing something to make it better.
In a far contrast to other kinds of music, there’s not too many acts that stay popular and relevant when they hit their thirties, and it’s nearly impossible beyond that. Due to rap’s youth-influenced lifestyle the chances of today’s current hot act being the timeless equivalent of the Rolling Stones are slim to none, so most try to “expand” their empire with various business endeavors. Unfortunately, we all have to suffer through ugly clothing lines, alcoholic monkey juices, foul-smelling colognes, car washes, Laundromats and the like.
In my opinion, there are so far three acts that have successfully withstood the test of time and will continue to do so even when they are as old as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards: Diddy, Jay-Z and The Roots. Diddy may be a great showman, but he was never really a good solo artist (prove me wrong) and spends most of his time now focusing on reality shows, movies and expensive yet good-tasting (albeit still primatial) alcohol. And while Jay may be considered the greatest rapper of all time, he’s become less of a rapper (in all meanings of the word) and more of a businessman (I’ll reserve judgment on such business practices for a later post).
Which leaves The Roots. Despite a myriad of member changes (Malik B? Rahzel? Scott Storch? Peedi Crakk?) and only a couple of gold-selling albums in their extensively deep catalog, the Philly crew has been one of if not the most consistent acts in hip hop, with genre-bending product ranging from street (“Clones”) to girly (“Break You Off,” “You Got Me”) to satirical (“What They Do”) to alt (“How I Got Over”). Without any notable business ventures outside of OkayPlayer The Roots have relied on their natural talent of performance, and have essentially been on a nonstop tour for the last two decades or so. They’ve popularized the term “one man band man” before Swizz Beatz made it an awful trending topic. And Black Thought, while inexplicably overlooked, remains one of the top emcees today. Even when The Roots are playing the side and back up an artist during their live performance, the end result is something that makes me wish they’d actually had jumped into the studio with them to make a record. They’re essentially the only things that makes Jimmy Fallon’s late night show at the very least watchable.
While most rapsters aspire to be the next Shawn or Sean, more should try to emulate The Roots. Let’s face it; a good 75% of all the artists who have sent me a submission today alone won’t be around in the next ten years, so at the very least they should diversify their bonds.