Be it voluntary or by force, each day brings more and more talk of some of our favorite (and not so favorite) rappers retiring. Lately, theres been talk of Jay-Z, DMX, Nas, Andre 3000 and JaRule all retiring. What was once and sometimes still is a ploy to elicit interest in an upcoming project, the retirement announcement seems to be popping up with more frequency and fervor. So whats happening?!?
Whether youre glad to see them go or not, what does this say to Hip-Hop fans in general? Are the artists truly falling out of love with the art form, or have they been burnt out by some of the self imposed, sometimes self destructive rules of excess found in many music genres, but celebrated and rigorously enforced in Hip-Hop? Has the endless smoking, drinking, casual sex, arrests and beefs taken its toll? Can it be some of them know that over time, they can not carry the image of the straight off the corner, straight out of jail gangsta that has shootouts on the weekends in between orgies and studio sessions, all while in a constant daze of the best liquor and marijuana the planet has to offer.
That image would be hard to convince the public of, by a 45 year old man its almost unbelievable now. Worse yet, has it been a get rich scheme all along? You know get a high paying job, work hard for a few years, then retire. Whatever the case, these guys are retiring in their early thirties. Can we only expect a few albums, maybe a decade or less, from the artists that weve come to know and enjoy? It just seems premature, for them as artists, and us as lovers of the art.
Can you imagine if Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield retired at thirty? We wouldve never heard Whats Going On or Superfly. What about Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder or B.B. King and Miles Davis? Or what about our D.C. homeboy, the late, great Duke Ellington? He is one of the best musicians and composers this country has ever produced, and he kept jammin into his seventies. If he had retired in his thirties, there may be no Hip-Hop, as we know it. For we all know that Jazz birthed BeBop, which was the precursor to Hip-Hop. Artists, be they painters, writers, musicians, etc simply capture commonly shared thoughts and feelings and express them in their respective art forms. They come to greatness based on how well or uniquely they are able to express those thoughts and feelings. These earlier artists truly loved the process and it showed in their music. They captured the sentiments and feelings of the times and packaged them into something beautiful and digestible for each individual to consume and cherish. They grew with their generation and kept them entertained every step of the way. The Duke was available for our grandparents generation, while the likes of Aretha and Smokey continue to do it for our parents.
The question remains, who will carry the torch of introspection, inspiration, and entertainment for our cherished art form, throughout our lifespan? And as hard as you may try, though you may love the rhythm and the melody, it is hard to digest the subject matter of someone say twenty years your junior. Which leaves me, and the rest of us Hip-Hoppers in a bit of a quandary. Though we all grew up on the smooth singing sensations our parents introduced us to, Hip-Hop is our cherished art form, our baby, something we birthed and nurtured. We watched it crawl, then take its first steps, and now that its off and running, will it simply runaway, totally abandoning us?
I love singing and always will, but I also love the rapped form of storytelling as well. So I ask myself, when I am 40 or older, who from among my peers, will I be able to count on to speak to me in the familiar voice I grew up with? I shutter to think of the possibilities.
Again. Whats happening? It appears that some rappers seem ashamed of performing at an older age. Why would they be ashamed to do something in their thirties and forties, that they so loved doing in their teens and twenties? Is it the same as people who in their young adult life may have reveled in the debauchery of promiscuity, petty crime, and experimenting with crime or drugs, but as they get older know that its unbecoming of a full grown adult? In other words, are they admitting their guilt in some of the negativity that is being sent out in their messages? Or do they simply fear getting rusty in the public eye?
Those artists showing no signs of fear would include LL Cool J, 35, who is preparing his eleventh album after nearly twenty years in the business. He shows no sign of falling off, and judging by his record sales, his fans seem to still appreciate his presence. Chuck D., 43, of the legendary group, Public Enemy, released an album a couple years ago, which showed him still at the top of his game. KRS-One, 42, arguably one of the best MCs ever (todays hottest rapper, 50 Cent agrees) is still capable of battling and defeating some of todays hottest MCs. Another legendary group, A Tribe Called Quest, all in their early thirties, are preparing a reunion album, and their fans seem to be eagerly awaiting its delivery.
For those in the know, all of the previously mentioned artists dont have an overly violent, misogynistic, or limiting style, therefore they are able to comfortably grow with the times and express themselves. Not to give homeboy a bad rap, but can you imagine 50 Cent at 40 years old rapping about who he just shot or plans to shoot. It just wouldnt be consumable.
So to all the up and coming rappers, dont paint yourself into a corner with limiting subject matter that wont be suitable 10 years later, if you expect a long career. There are two types of artists. Those that do it for the love and those that do it for the money. The latter wouldnt be considered an artist, as much as a worker. Now to all the artists considering early retirement, if your plan all along is to get rich and roll, then best wishes. I would simply say to you, it would be nice to let your employer know what to expect.
The employer? Yes, that would be us, the fans, the consumers. Were the employers. Yeah, I know the record companies cut the checks, but who do you think fills up their bank coffers to keep those checks from bouncing. And as much as we enjoy your work, know that just as you were hired, you can be fired and asked to clean out your office for the next guy to do a better job. See you on payday.