Andre 3000 famously said he wouldn’t rap past 40 years old. In and interview released a few days ago, Andre was asked to discuss these comments, to which he replied:
“Even just the origin of the word ‘hip-hop’; first you have to be ‘hip’, and the older you get, you get further away from the hipness. Once you start trying to imitate… people see it man, and it becomes embarrassing at a point.”
This imitation of the ‘hipness’ is perceivable within a lot of modern rap music; you only have to look to the biggest rappers in the world for examples. Take a track such as ‘Tom Ford’ by 45 year old Jay Z. Hov proclaims he is ‘trill’, drops phrases such as ‘trappin ass’, and declares that he enjoys ‘partying with weirdos’:
When I hear Hov dropping such bars, it jars with me, because it seems so unnatural for a grown-ass man to be including such contemporary themes in his music. I dare say too that if he stuck to what he knew he would probably still sound as majestic on the track as he did on The Blueprint, and at 31 years old, he wasn’t even young at that stage of his career. Jay Z has managed to remain an incredibly successful artist based on a number of factors: his status as a businessman in the music industry, his status as an artist mentor, and of course, his wife. He is a powerful figure, but with this being said, I wouldn’t claim many new artists are looking to him for new ideas.
Some rappers truly do stick to what they know throughout their careers. Take Ghostface, who has just released his new album 36 Seasons, as an example.
Ghost hasn’t diverged too far at all from his artistic personality, and you really wouldn’t be surprised if you heard the raps on this record 15 years ago. The problem for people like Ghost, however great he might sound, is that there are only a few people (such as myself…) who are really interested to hear another record of Ghost doing the same old shit. However, it is hard to ignore the recent resurgence of new artists adopting the sound of the 90s, a movement championed by the likes of Action Bronson and Joey Bada$$, but we’re gonna leave that for a whole new discussion…
One way in which it may be possible to avoid the dilemma of age within hip-hop is to exist within the avant-garde. MF Doom is an artist who is fervently aware of the weight identity holds within rap, and his persona is based upon this awareness:
Doom has created a caricature of a rapper, giving him a unique level of manoeuvrability for innovation. He is an artist that besides a few notable collaborations (such as with Damon Albarn for Gorillaz) has always existed as an underground – albeit well respected – artist. Thing is, he will most likely remain there, for both his lyrical style and beat selection are relatively niche and unpalatable to a wider audience.
So what we might conclude is that if a rapper is to maintain respect into old age, they need to be innovative by embracing a unique approach to their music, without a strong thematic dependence on trends. This is obviously very difficult, but one album that falls into this category I would say is Outkast’s 2003 double-disc release Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Andre 3000’s half of the album The Love Below was essentially just a great pop record, which Andre managed to achieve without a sacrifice of integrity.
The Love Below’s standout singles ‘Hey Ya’ and ‘Roses’ still sound as fresh today as they did 11 years ago.
The greats of genres such as jazz and blues seem to gain respect for every year and wrinkle they gain; we praise them for their experience, for experiences make up the themes of these genres. The essence of hip-hop however, as Andre 3000 believes, really lies in an expression of what’s new. Rap is a constantly evolving conflict of who and what is the hot thing. As an upcoming rapper, your themes have to be just as fresh as your kicks selection, and this conflict, as a listener, is something I wholeheartedly embrace.
However, there are a select few rap artists who are able to create music that transcends the trends of their time, and really push the boundaries of the genre. While Andre 3000 was still in his twenties during the release of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, if anyone had attained this it was him with this record, so all I can say is it’ll be a dang shame for both his fans and younger artists looking up to him if he stays true to his word and hangs up the mic for good.