There’s a 31 year-old guy who just got out of prison, and is living with his mom, lounging around the house with his friends watching comedy on the television, breaking the furniture while horse-playing. He has several children, all by different women, but is more concerned with smoking marijuana. He blames the failed educational system for his never becoming properly educated, because it seemed, to him, that his teachers just showed up to collect checks and never really cared about the success of the students. His resolve, hang out on the block—find his lost youth in the youth who are currently lost—school and be schooled by the young men who should be looking to him as a role model. Where he should be being an example, he’s taking notes from them on the latest style, slang and circumstance. His ambition is to take his story and the stories of those around him and make it big one day soon. He’s working on a new mix tape. His album is dropping soon. The world will know his name, and anyone who ever doubted him is going to regret it. He’s going to expose the criminal justice system, the educational system, the unsupportive family, the mothers of his children, the crabs in the barrel he calls home—everybody who didn’t believe in him when he was at his lowest. All he needs is a chance.
When I started rapping there were guys I looked up to, because they were doing, full-time, what I wanted to do with my life. They were making Art. And they were true to it—committed to the life in which they saw potential success and a sustainable career. This is the American Dream, right? Where there is opportunity, seize it. Where there is none, create it. Hip-Hop gave many of us hope that we could be great at something, have that greatness acknowledged, and even possibly make a great living doing so. I guess that’s the effect Art can have on people—especially an Art as seemingly accessible as Hip-Hop (rapping, in particular, but also producing, beat-making, and DJing). If an artist isn’t careful, he or she runs the risk of being the aforementioned 31 year-old person. And what’s wrong with that? an artist may ask. My response: Absolutely nothing…and just about everything. Nas wrote “2nd Childhood” for his 2001 album Stillmatic, and I think it perfectly describes a dilemma I’m wondering how Hip-Hop is going to handle: Growing up.
I admire [some of] the attempts by the elder statesmen of Hip-Hop, Nas, Jay-Z, Lupe Fiasco, to elevate [some of] the conversations and content in popular Rap music to a level on which many fans of Hip-Hop can continue to engage. Sex, drugs, partying and misogyny apparently sell records, and have been a staple in Rap since “If your girl starts actin’ up, then you take her friend” sounded remotely “cool” [if it ever did]. Perhaps it’s not the responsibility of Hip-Hop to do this. Maybe that should be left to parents or other stakeholders in the community, but sadly, Hip-Hop is the only reference many youth have. I’ve said countless times I learned much of what I thought to be manhood from my favorite rappers: Tupac, Eightball & MJG, Lauryn Hill. I was lucky enough to have some real-life examples to look to as well. But in my real life, I had to deal with growing up on different terms than Nas’s “2nd Childhood” man-child.
I now look at the guys I grew up with and wonder how many of us made it to adulthood. How many of us are stuck somewhere in the 1995-2002 Death Row, Bad Boy, No Limit, Rocafella, Cash Money, mindset? How much has the culture progressed since then? It seems we’re searching, like Juan Ponce de León for a fountain of youth, repeating, over-and-over, all the mistakes of that “golden age” with very little of the successes. Where is the diversity of popular voices in Rap that give voice to being/acting like an adult? Perhaps I’m asking for too much. Maybe Rap is supposed to stay young—it’s a youth movement. Maybe I’m supposed to outgrow Rap as an art form while maintaining my love for Hip-Hop culture. I refuse to believe that’s true, though. But is Rap ready for the “I take care of my family and it’s difficult at times/I’m trying to pay my bills while simultaneously writing these rhymes” record? So much of popular music is being consumed by youth that I would imagine it’s not a wise career move to make music beyond the life experience/ambitions of consumers over the age of 25. It’s just that when I see that 31 year-old out on the block, dressed in skinny jeans & a V-Neck, a snapback and “retro” Jordan sneakers, I feel there’s very little he and I can converse about. I mean, I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I do. And as constructive as our conversation could be, at some point I’m going to have to move on…you know, things to do, the day isn’t going to just seize itself. And as sure as I’d need to move on from that conversation with that guy in person, I have to move on from those guys on records.
There are some great songs out there written by 30+ year-old rappers about the indulgences and trappings of individuals fortunate enough to live like children, with little regard for the rules and ramifications of their actions. When I need to escape from the mundane existence of being a boring schoolteacher, I can put on a song perfect for that occasion. But that can only go on for so long, and then I have to move on…you know, things to do, the day isn’t going to just seize itself.
They always said growing up would suck. I remember Rap as the soundtrack of my youth. As I grew up, I guess I never assumed the folks responsible for marking my memories wouldn’t grow up, too. It’s too bad I can’t afford to be a kid again. I miss hearing music I felt was made just for me. I guess I could always make my own, make a million dollars, and show everybody that ever doubted me. But I’ve got things to do, days to seize…these bills aren’t going to just pay themselves. Adulthood it is.