2 Chainz and Juicy J recently released two great solo projects a week apart from each other. Both albums are chock full of well-crafted, attention-grabbing songs with lyrics that are equal parts ridiculous and entertaining and beats that are best played at ear shattering levels while you mean mug any pedestrian who happens to cross your path. The combined age of both Juicy and the artist formerly known as Tity Boi is 73, making each of them only slightly younger than the genre of rap itself (Juicy is 38, 2 Chainz is 35, Rap is 40). But these Two Ratcheteers aren’t the only aging entertainers who have found success with hip-hop in 2013. Killer Mike and El-P put out the vividly dystopian Run The Jewels earlier this year; Rick Ross hasn’t stopped rapping and releasing mixtapes since the Bush Era; Kanye and Jay-Z both put out tepid albums/pieces-of-art-you-probably-didn’t-”get”; and Eminem is banking on bringing back his vintage self on his upcoming MMLP2. For a young man’s game, rap seems to be visibly graying at the temples and embracing it wholeheartedly and old rappers have found success in this decade the same way that Boomer Rock took hold in the late ’70s.
This embrace has to do with rap fan’s constant pursuit of “the other”, constantly seeking out whatever falls in line with the counter culture. And since rap has always been a way for the often-ignored youth to rebel and make their voices heard, perhaps we’re simply tired of hearing from the youth. If so, it would stand to reason that the only “counter” lies within our rap elders, who are therefore embraced accordingly. 2 Chainz’s style of rap flies in the face of what purists typically respect (tight-knit and dense rhyme patterns, substance over style, technical skill) but when juxtaposed with someone like Chief Keef, he becomes the lesser of two evils. This may seem like a plausible excuse until you realize that old rappers and young rappers are still rapping about the same things, and have been doing so since forever. I mean, it’s not as if El-P and Killer Mike are crafting songs about waiting to get his household items until Thursday morning in order to take advantage of their senior’s discount. At the same time, young upstarts like Chance the Rapper act as a stronger foil to the unhinged antics of a Chief Keef, in spite of the fact that he’s only a year older.
Hip-hop’s aging fan-base plays a huge role as well. Back when hip-hop still relied on DJ’s that still relied on skill, what you said mattered more than who said it. But ever since artists have been attempting to position themselves as “a brand”, it would make sense that consumers are showing some brand loyalty by sticking with names that they can trust. Putting yourself through the hassle of going out and finding new music isn’t necessary when the same Jay Z that released albums on tape ten years ago is still making music—albeit in partnership with the world’s largest phone manufacturer. College Dropout came out in 2004. If it acted as the soundtrack to someone literally dropping out of a learning institution at the time, that person would comfortably turn to Kanye’s Yeezus to deal with a rapidly approaching thirtieth birthday and the associated thoughts of potential parenthood and mortality that come with that. The best thing a brand can be is sticky, and after being in the game for as long as they have, these older artists have finally found and exploited their target market. But some rap fans are still silly and care more about credibility than brand-ability, so an older rapper fulfills their needs in that regard as well.
An older artists authenticity is proven and traceable. With a seasoned veteran, you’re able to track their rise to fame through all of their struggles and disputes, enlarging that artist’s mythos and endearing them to a rap world that’s obsessed with seeing icons rise and fall before and rising again against all odds. It’s why we respect Ross for grinding with Slip N Slide before settling on his current persona. It’s why we’re endeared by 2 Chainz’s fall out from DTP or by Juicy J’s resurgence after Hollywood made him into a Tiesto-produced shell of himself. It’s why we root for the underdog and the sole reason there are five fucking Rocky movies. Cheering for someone who isn’t supposed to be here is as big a rap trope as having a Jewish lawyer, but having a great back-story doesn’t make your music sound any better.
Maybe rap fans don’t care about a rapper’s age as long as they rap convincingly. The age of a rapper you were just introduced to only act as a supplement; causing you to think, “Wow, he raps very well for someone so young/old”. Rap fans, and music fans in general, are more engrossed with an artist’s potential than anything else. It’s refreshing for them to see an artist who is currently living out his apex, age be damned. Listening to someone approaching 40 is an event, since it’s potentially the last time that person will be able to still have some semblance of cool. I mean, it’s not as if someone could be rapping after they turn 40 or 50, right?