As of June 25, Jay Z is on tour with his wife, Beyoncé, who, in 2014, is a singer twice as bankable as her rapper husband. This time last year, Jay Z was on tour with Justin Timberlake, who, in 2013, sold more than twice as many copies of his latest album, The 20/20 Experience, than Jay Z sold of his Magna Carta Holy Grail. Three years back, he toured with megastar ace boon Kanye West.
And five years before all that, Cam’ron was dissing that Jay was too old to be running the rap game. “How’s the King of New York rocking sandals with jeans, and he’s 42 years old?” asked Cam.
(It's worth noting Cam, still active as a rapper and actor, was born in 1976 and is now thirty-eight years old. Cheers.)
Hip-hop doesn’t have to be just dance music. Or just rabble-rousing. Or youthful exuberant capitalism. It can be—and inevitably will be—and already is—music for parents and purists.
As one of the most successful, most prolific rap stars of all time, Jay Z has recently stood as a punching bag for a restless sort of concern trolling that wonders: when the hype dies down and the album sales take a turn for the worst, shouldn’t some rappers just hang it up? As 50 Cent, Rick Ross, T.I., Jeezy, and Jay have neared the end of their megastar “runs,” fans (and haters, certainly) tend to wish them into retirement, never again to record or collaborate with whomever’s popping right now. And the very last thing we want to hear, it seems, is another KRS-One/Buckshot revival.
Eleven years after Straight Outta Compton, Dr. Dre opened his second solo album with a reflection on aging and unprecedented wealth. “I've seen 'em come, I've watched 'em go/Watched 'em rise, witnessed it, and watched 'em blow/Watched 'em all blossom and watched 'em grow/Watched the lawsuits when they lost the dough.” Yet Dre’s successfully tended to a commercial empire, while Too $hort, Tech N9ne, Master P, and Common have consistently published new material without chipping away at their musical legacies. It’s no longer their radio moment, but it’s certainly their prerogative to persist as artists. To grow beyond hype and commercial zenith.
Amongst ourselves here at Complex, we’ve occasionally discussed whether, say, Jay Z’s rapping about Harry Belafonte and against molly means he’s a few too many bars over the hill. Maybe he is. After all, you can’t be a cad and club rat forever. While "Big Pimpin'" features in Jay and Beyoncè's "On the Run" joint tour setlist, Jay has explicitly disavowed the song in interviews, just as Nas has disavowed “Ether,” and Eminem has moved on from “Cleaning Out My Closet” to making musical amends with his mother. Rappers mature. Though I love the record, Nas didn’t write “Daughters” for me. He wrote it for “my brother’s with daughters,” as a father who’s thirteen years my senior.
Hip-hop doesn’t have to be just dance music. Or just rabble-rousing. Or youthful exuberant capitalism. It can be—and inevitably will be—and already is—music for parents and purists. Yes, it does hurt stutter my heart a beat to hear struggle bars from Rakim over a knockoff Eminem Show beat. But for every “Don’t Call Me,” hopefully there’s a “Calm Down,” an “About the Money,” maybe even a Watch the Throne. Eighteen years after his first hit single, Jay Z went quadruple-platinum with “Niggas In Paris”—with an assist from little brother, of course. Kanye, for one, is honored to hoist his predecessors.
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