I was watching Jay-Z on Real Time with BIll Maher the other night, listening to the legendary rapper chop it up with one of the nation's foremost political voices and couldn't help but smile.
His appearance on the show, in my mind, was somehow announcing hip hop's settling down era to the masses. Long gone are the raucous pour-champagne-on-a-chick tracks, overflowing-machismo beef records and videos dedicated to just overt waste. In now is the acquiring-wealth, let's-get-married, settle-down-and-talk-about-how-far-you've-come era. All of which is admirable, then I felt weird. It was like watching my parents.
As much as hip-hop head's may cringe looking back on their history, I kind of miss the ignorance.
Then I thought about it, in terms of life. Jay-Z, Pharrell, Outkast and others are actually closer in age to my parents than they are to me and, unlike r&b music where the next generation of shirtless crooners get in the spotlight and the old heads tour on three or four albums worth of material on the HBCU alumni concert circuit for the next 20 years, rappers now seem to have figured out staying power.
In one sense, it's cool to think the genre now has its Springsteen, its Johnny Cash, someone who can tour off the hits but still drop new material that's relevant and good. But what about the youth?
They are constantly attacked for their lack of lyrical quality but how many of people were dropping "truth bombs" when they were 16? We all grow up. That's part of the enjoyment you can get from listening to an artist like Nas, is that you can hear in his music a maturation happening album by album. But what label is taking a chance on a young guy like that when, 39-year-old Jay-Z still has two or three albums left in his contract? He's always going to go platinum, why take the risk, right?
It's cool to grow with your favorite rapper. For a lot of hip-hop heads, they get an intrinsic joy out of saying, "Wow, this is someone from my generation whose life had ups and downs just like mine." You're always able to parallel your lives, but only because someone thought to give these guys a chance to get on.
Are older rappers standing in the way of progress? I mean, they are the ones in charge now but when you have Redman, who's still good and self-professed he's "just getting started" still dropping albums at 45 (yeah, he's the same age as my pops) there is another kid biding their time.
Sorry hip-hop, Soulja Boy is not a one-hit wonder. High school kids don't really like Jay-Z, Nas or anyone I grew up on. I'm certain they will track his progression with their own but why should he be the only one?
Is it going to take some young dudes just stepping up independently, which Soulja Boy and Gucci Mane did before the labels came calling, or will labels say, "Hey, I'm going to give the next 17-year old prodigy a chance."
Needless to say, I love rap music, I'm just eager to hear some new voices.
I'm appreciative of artists like XXL's 2009 Freshmen Class, which includes Kid Cudi, Wale, Asher Roth, Charles Hamilton, Mickey Fatz and others, all of which I'm excited to see take the reigns of hip-hop eventually.
Some people argue that many hip-hop greats were forced out but if you look at them now, Slick Rick, Doug E. Fresh, Big Daddy Kane and others have carved out a nice little niche touring and performing in smaller venues to their diehard fans for years. Out of the spotlight, still relevant but not obstructing the rise of the next generation of MCs.