Growing Old and Going Broke in Hip-Hop

Slate's Culture Blog
June 5 2009 12:34 PM

Growing Old and Going Broke in Hip-Hop

The rapper who vows to leave rap behind for more exciting territory has become something of a cliché. We've seen this play out from the space-freak experiments of Andre 3000 and Cee-Lo to the rock and synth-pop aspirations of Lil Wayne and Kanye West to the (short-lived) retirement of Jay-Z. The motive here is easy enough to guess at: Rappers grow older and grow bored with hip-hop's sometimes-rigid thematic and formal limits. Besides, what better brag is there than announcing that you are bigger than your entire genre?

This narrative overlaps, though, with another, less glamorous cliché: That of the rapper who grows too old to be convincing anymore. All of pop music is steeped in youth, but rockers and chanteuses have found paths to dignified, relevant pastures that have still eluded most rappers. (Jay-Z's post-retirement albums, Kingdom Come and American Gangster , came at this quagmire from different angles, neither with total success.)

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Ghostface Killah is the latest MC to address aging in hip-hop—this time in the context of the recession—giving a colorful quote to Unkut magazine  about his decision to focus more heavily on R & B than rap with his next record:

[E]verybody don't sell crack no more, man. I don't sell crack, yo. I ain't movin' no bricks or none of that other shit. I ain't shoot nobody in like ... since the early '90s, man. How long you gonna be 40 years old and actin' like you still sellin' cracks and you on the block and you doin' this and you doin' that when times is more serious, man. We in a fuckin' recession, B! Ain't nobody gettin' no money, man! We gotta stop lyin' to ourselves and lyin' to the fans. And the fans gotta stop bein' so dumb and ignorant, and know it's time to talk about grown-man situations. Shit that happen in the real life, inside your household, your love life, your personal life, that's just like, "Damn, it's hard for a nigga to get some money!"

This is not entirely new ground for Ghostface Killah (who has already proved that he could transition brilliantly into children 's music if he wanted). To hear the closest thing hip-hop has produced to a Johnny Cash moment —a haunting, rageful, invigorating tussle with the gloaming—grab a copy of 8 Diagrams , the largely overlooked last album by Ghostface's crew, the Wu-Tang Clan.

Jonah Weiner is Slate's pop critic.

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