Another summer gone, another reminder that I’m getting old. Luckily my rap idols aren’t aging with me, or at least hide it better than I do. But even if easy living extends their golden eras by a few extra years, the question remains; How will rap artists deal with growing old?
The last few weeks have seen artists from decades past attempt different strategies to maintain relevance. KRS & Buckshot tried the street teacher motif content to remind everyone how great the past was, even if no one wanted to listen. Raekwon tried to recapture past glories and if he was successful, the album still lived in the past. And Jay didn’t really try at all, but claimed to be moving on, even if saying it doesn’t make it true.
If they are serious about reinvention, they can pick up a copy of the New Yorker and read Ta-Nahisi Coates’ profile of MF Doom. Coates delves into the transition period from Doom’s KMD days to Metal Face. What caused the change? Some dissatisfaction with Hip-Hop to be sure— Coates, like his subject Doom seems “convinced by 1998, Hip-Hop had run out of things to say.” But the mask also offered an escape from Father Time for Doom as well:
“I wanted to get on stage and orate, without thinking about the normal things people think about. Like girls being ‘Oh he’s sexy,’ or ‘I don’t want him.’…I might as well control the story,” says Doom.
Does this mean we’ll see Jay-Z throwing on a mask, busting out Star Wars rhymes and sending impostors to his shows? I hope to fuck not. If anything, Doom’s act has worn pretty tired, and even he will have to come up with a new gimmick or some new fire. We’ll see if MadVillany 2 can deliver.
The truth is most of my favorite artists are fading fast from the spotlight. Their heydays have passed—The Golden Era is gone and the titans of that time aren’t likely to be the drivers of the music into whatever new territory it will wander. That doesn’t mean they won’t keep putting out shit I love, and doesn’t mean there won’t be exceptions, but it’s a young man’s game. And as rap turns emo, there will be many times I wish Hip-Hop had a senior circuit for my grouchy old ass.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Onward and Upward with the Arts, “The Mask of Doom” [New Yorker]