Rap Retirement Plans

One writer looks at the hypocrisy and impulse rappers use to wave retirement. Does it say something about them, or about the yearning for appreciation that 2010 Hip Hop yields?

In both life and career, we all want to script our ending; to walk away with that great proclamation - that statement that proudly tells the world why we matter. Some choose to quit, to walk away looking back occasionally to make sure they're being watched. Some write their last words and take their lives into their own hands tragically. There is a trail of aftermath on both paths. The slow walk away seldom brings tears and pleas to come back, but that trip into the horizon brings emotions of anger and resentment of such a selfish act. “Walk with your eyes forward,” my grandmother always said. Our Hip Hop artists have their heads on a swivel – every ounce of their self-worth is seemingly based upon who's looking, watching, reading and sometimes even listening. Sadly, today's rapper will quit just to feel loved.

When we reflect on the great musicians, we think of time. Specifically, we think of the manner in which they made timeless music, how they were before their time and often how tragedy took them before their time. From Sam Cooke, to Marvin Gaye, all the way to Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, and Big Pun, we talk about their music and time in the same breath. These greats never cheated us out of music, contemplated quitting, or begged for unneeded attention – they simply created.  It’s what separates the good artist from the great. They never needed to demand attention because their art took care of that for them. Jazz giant John Coltrane once said about innovators in all realms of art, “Whatever the case, whether accepted or rejected, rich or poor, they are forever guided by that great and eternal constant – The creative urge.”  The great artists are pushed by this urge, our eyes and words mean nothing to them.

Without question the creative urge is present in Hip Hop. From Kanye’s experimental album 808’s & Heartbreak to Nas & Damian Marley’s Distant Relatives, Hip Hop continues to evolve. We have a handful of artists who are willing to step outside of their comfort zone and push the craft. Hip Hop as an art-form is ever vibrant with expanding rhyme schemes, production techniques, instrumentation, and vocal deliveries. This evolution is the reason Hip Hop is so beloved, the reason people place their entire existence within the culture. Numbers and popular trends aside, if you’re reading this, Hip Hop has almost certainly played a significant role in your life. The creative urge is present unfortunately other motives have begun to cloud its existence. Instead of striving to be great, and following that urge, we have emcees who are guided by fame and attention.

Rappers are retiring at a troubling rate. All too many take the “I’m bigger than this” approach. They quit in a condescending manner, avoiding such timely things like class or respect. A critically-acclaimed new artist like Kid Cudi hinted at an extremely early retirement once by saying, “I’m too real for this high school musical shit.” It may have been an unintentional slight towards his forefathers and peers but it nevertheless was disrespectful to those that paved the way. Instead of allowing his then yet to be released album Man On The Moon: The End of Day answer critics and haters, he took to his blog to quit. Sure, it was followed by a “I’m not going anywhere” blog a few days or week later, but it was said nonetheless. Cudi questioned each fan's devotion to his art and each emcee's worth to the culture. By doing so, he planted a seed of doubt, which has continued to sprout. Even after the critically-acclaimed debut album, he more recently said, “I plan to make five more albums before I retire for good.” Apparently no lesson was learned, humility escaped him, and he once again stood above the culture looking down telling it what he would give. That doubt has blossomed and we all are left pondering his intentions of creating in the first place. Is that urge present?

Part of the blame can be directly related to social networking sites. With the ability to blog, tweet or post videos, artists are given the opportunity to post their feelings at a second’s notice. In a world of instant media coverage, words and actions can not be taken back. Regardless of whether the post or tweet stays active, once it is said, it can not be reversed - ask Asher Roth. Unfortunately, these words begin to compromise and artist’s worth. Inevitably, fans begin to question their devotion to the craft, and instead of garnering sympathy from these postings they are instead attacked with a wrath.

When Too Short first “retired” in 1996, he had to rely on The Source and radio hosts to spread the word. It took a lot of work to publicize Short Dog's exit from the game. It was a drastically different world 14 years ago than it is now. Eventually it came to light that Too Short’s retirement was linked to frustrations with Jive Records contract negotiations and it was his way of getting leverage. These days that same situation is a MySpace post from Saigon saying “I quit,” Jean Grae alluding to the same, or an open letter from an album-less Nino Bless expressing his displeasure with the business, attempting to justify walking away. Thousands of people see it instantly. Media sources eat it up. Souljah Boy gets fed up with the hate and tweets a novel saying, “I’m taking my money and leaving.” Social networking has allowed angry, hurt and impulsive artists to have the world on the tip of their fingers and unfortunately, they’re ready to quit with a simple click. A professor once told me there is no such thing as a dormant (retired) writer; you either write, await inspiration to write or you claim another profession.” Musically, the same logic reigns true.

Q-Tip recently said about retiring “I just don’t even understand that. It just frustrated me. Like, why deprive us of your talent forever and say you’ve retired? I could understand sabbaticals and taking time off. Or even if you’re a group, I could understand a group disbanding, but still in their own ways as individuals still remaining creative. So when you say you’ve retired, that means basically that you’re not touching it no more, no more music.” It’s that type of logic that everyday fans think with, the logic that the true school era of emcees write with. It’s the reason why we have under-appreciated and under-supported artists from the '80s still making music. It speaks to why Rev Run found the Lord and time to make music, and why Mase retired and came back when he felt the time was right.

Where do we go as culture when emcees think they are now bigger than Hip Hop? How do we actually take retirement threats seriously when emcees use it as promotional tools? Game said, “My third album might be my last album — so look out,"” in attempts to generate buzz around L.A.X. 50 Cent said he’d retire if Curtis didn’t outsell Kanye West's Graduation, and then later blamed it on his label, Interscope. Lupe Fiasco said, “My whole energy for making Hip Hop music is slowing down” and then continued to say that he may retire after his third album. Too Short retired, but never really stayed out of the mix and returned with a heavily-promoted comeback album Can’t Stay Away. Scarface did this with 2008's Emeritus, then became a free agent and released a retail mixtape in Dopeman Music earlier this year. When Jay-Z hung up the mic, he didn’t leave us because he ventured as far as he could musically; he left us with Fade To Black to watch and The Black Album to purchase. It is getting increasingly more difficult to trust artist’s intentions. Sales first, even if it means a retirement threat. Anything to drum up attention.

While Game and Cudi sit pounding on that drum, Lupe’s claim is boredom. The quote is so ego-centered it’s unbelievable. Part of any art form is the fact that any artist can venture into new territories. Lupe Fiasco is essentially is saying that the confines of the game, bore him, unaware that he at any time can step outside of those confines and create. Maybe Lupe pushed his insane rhyme schemes as far as he could possibly take them, but is that really all he can do musically? Kanye got bored down and created 808’s & Heartbreak. Common got bored and made a questionable Universal Mind Control. You can’t knock some one for pushing the boundaries, testing themselves, even if the experiment goes array. In Jazz, Coltrane’s original quartet was as good as any group in Jazz History and created some of the most timeless music in any genre. As they progressed as a unit, their method and sound began to bore Coltrane. Even though, groups to this day still try to replicate their sound, he wanted more. Instead of hanging up his saxophone, he pushed the envelope of sound further than any Jazz musician before or after him, all in the name of that creative urge.He never publicly criticized the established standards of Jazz or provided fans with a public contemplation of quitting. It was the contrary; he pushed the envelope as far as he could possibly push it. He embraced his art, looking desperately for inspiration when the current form didn’t provide it.

The steady decline in sales has also led to emcees venturing into other forms of art or business. It, in my opinion, is a positive thing. Emcees have become more involved in film more so than any other musician. By all means artists should support themselves by other means if that is what they choose to do. Ice Cube makes his money in film yet find someone who says that Ice Cube isn’t a Hip Hop artist. Ask Ice Cube if he considers retiring. He’s already prepping a new record that he thinks will change the way we look at the west coast. Ice-T is a millionaire because of television, but he gets giddy with excitement when talking about Mobb Deep or new records with Canibus or Immortal Technique. Common is slowly becoming more ingrained in the movie industry, but I dare anybody to question his artistry as a poet or emcee. You can do both if you are inspired to create. When Cudi says, “I want to leave behind music and just do acting,” he isn’t stating that he loves acting as much as he’s stating that music was never really his calling. In many ways, it’s a sucker punch to artists who aren’t nearly as successful as Kid Cudi but have devoted more of themselves to their art. The statement, "I only got into the music business to tell my story and inspire some people. I think four albums will do it, and when I’m done with my four, five albums, I’ll switch it up. Once the story is told [musically], there’s nothing else to say,” is an unfortunate way of thinking. The whole stepping stone mentality, I’ll use this to get me what I want, is harmful to all involved. When Kevin Federline released his mess of an album (2006's Playing With Fire), it wasn’t because he loved Hip Hop, it was because he wanted to use Hip Hop to increase his visibility. Is there a difference?

Follow the leader. As disappointing as Rakim’s  The Seventh Seal may have been, it was beautiful to see the God emcee hungry. KRS-One’s joint-venture with Buckshot, Survival Skills, demonstrates how he continually wants to make music, regardless of the numbers that he pushes. Give Grandmaster Melle Mel a mic and he is thrilled. I’ve seen it. Jay-Z couldn’t stay away – Game acts like he never made the statement. Artists create. The thought of them giving up their talents for something else sounds like a decision of life or death. Maybe it’s an allusion to think that every artist cares as much as you or I do. Maybe I’m be a hypocrite when I say how offended I was that an established artist like Khia says that “Hip Hop is gone,” and goes onto say that she is retired from rapping, when I hate her music to begin with. Yet I felt a genuine loss when Jean Grae announced her retirement. As Killer Mike once said, “I need my favorite rappers rappin’, ‘cause life is hard, and I don’t believe in preachers.”

Independent music king Tech N9ne responded to a question about retiring with this, “I have to reach my plateau. I have to tread every piece of this earth before I go, man.” Jay Z told XXL, "I think I pulled the retirement ripcord too many times. People [are] looking at me like, `Please shut up.' I was looking at [my retirement movie] Fade To Black the other day. I was embarrassed. I couldn't watch. I'm not playing with you. I had to turn it off.”  Saigon’s back, without an explanation, Game has kept working, as have artists like Souljah Boy, Scarface, and 50 Cent. Jay acknowledged his mistake and promised “never to do it again” and that “he’d just let nature take its course.” Tech worked to hard to establish a fan base to walk away, when making music is all he ever wanted to do.  When it stops being a sales pitch, suddenly staying put makes a whole lot of sense.

The act of retirement has become the art of deception. No one walks away as the sun is setting with his or her music softly playing in the background. We as fans don’t even get the opportunity to beg for their return because them leaving is so orchestrated and at times fabricated that we can’t even play along. The illusion is over. Artists either create, attempt to create, or cease to exist. As Black Sheep would say, "The Choice is yours."

The views and opinions expressed in the following feature editorial are those expressly of the writer of this piece and do not necessarily reflect those of HipHopDX.

56 Comments

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  • Vin Rock

    I'd like to commend Allhiphop.com for keeping JOURNALISM ALIVE!!! With so much crap content on the net. It's great to actually READ an article that is simply a good read. Articles like this give food for thought for people in any profession. I've read quite a few good articles here. Keep it up!!!

    • Vin Rock

      My BAD HIP HOPDX. I commend you on this article. I must admit. It's HIPHOPDX and allhiphop who produce great editorials. We need more.....

  • hf2005md

    good view point. A few reasons why this is a topic 1. No good music out to use as inspiration. 2. Scared of not being HOT 3. Using this a way of PR 4. We are in a copycat society. 5. Hip hop is not about the music anymore. 6. If you loved the music retiring would not be an option.

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  • chae

    this artical was very good i must say . these rappers in the game now dont really love the art form. they dont do it for the street corners they dont do it for the people in the struggle. these rappers are not artist in the purest sense of the word. so when these garbage rappers scream retirement its because the real fans of hiphop know your not true your not a real hiphop artist your just some goonie ignorant materialistic champange popping alcoholic trying to fool thim.so when no one buying that hot garbage they say there retiring only for that last bit of attention. a hiphop artist is supposed be skilled with the words sharp as you could be with the tounge and love the art form from the deepest part of your soul. and keeping pushing with YOUR original style untill you break through

  • Nita

    Best article I've ever read on this site. I read the whole thing and i agree one hundered percent.

    • TRU_Dat

      Shocked the hell out of me. I was just checking to see what's up with Jay and B. Well-written and on point.

  • dalai lama

    This is so typical of hiphopdx. A great theme ruined by the author's bias. So everyone who retires is an egomaniac and has no respect for hip hop, BUT of course, Jay-z does not fall under that. He apparently had ventured musically as far as he could plus he made the Black Album so he could leave??? So what you're saying is that if you make a dope album then you can leave hip hop? And if you in 2010 are saying that Jay-Z had reached the pinnacle of hip hop in 2003 then what does that say about the man's subsequent albums?? LOL. So you make a whack album and you can't retire? But you make a dope album and you can? Isn't that the very opposite of what should be the case? I mean here you are, at the very height of your musical powers exhibiting to all that you can make great music and from that you draw the conclusion that its time to hang the boots? Logic FAIL. Stop being on Jay-Z nuts like all media outlets nowadays hhdx. Not everyone falls for it.

    • learntoread

      the article says, When Jay-Z hung up the mic, he didn’t leave us because he ventured as far as he could musically; he left us with Fade To Black to watch and The Black Album to purchase. It is getting increasingly more difficult to trust artist’s intentions. Sales first, even if it means a retirement threat. Anything to drum up attention." dude never gets a pass,

    • hmmmmmmmmm

      An editorial is faulted for being subjective? You, sir, are an idiot.

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  • ktutegypt

    Good article. But why do you call Soulja Boi an artist?

  • Jonan

    I enjoyed that and I agree with a lot of it. An artist has to let nature take its course during his career instead of putting a deadline.

  • calico2020

    DX can't post an article without grammer errors, pathetic... good article tho

  • William Johnson (StylelessKnave)

    Love this article. It's as if you spoke my thoughts and feelings about rappers claiming retirement. I had almost forgot that Lupe Fiasco was claiming that he was going to 'retire' after his next album. Utter bull shit that these artist think that they are "higher than hip-hop" What sucks is that as a fan of a lot of the artist you mentioned - specifically speaking about Lupe, Kid Cudi, and the Game. I have 4 mixtapes and 2 albums from Lupe, Kid Cudi's 'Man on the Moon', and both the Game's albums and keeping in mind that as I listen to these amazing albums that they are just going to throw in the towel is disheartening. It's like they just dont care for the craft. Life is ever changing, and with it - so are the stories that life gives us. Sad face. You said what I've been thinking but unable to articulate in spades.

  • Ant_Ran

    Great article. Bottom line is the money. It's a gift and a curse. It helped alot of black males get out the hood and live the good life. But it also attracted people to the culture that had no love for it and only wanted a payday. If you create for financial reward instead of a passion and love for the culture, well that's where the problem lies. (Waka Flaka or however the hell u spell his name!)...chuuuch!

  • nanofcb

    awesome article !

  • Sunspect

    Truth is told. Other than that, this is what youngsters need to hear or read. If money is the cause for these rappers to retire, than their wordplay in lyrics are nothing but wordplay. Why rely on someone's music or whatever, when they in the end betray you. I used to listen to Mystikal's music and was inspired by his radical way of expressing music, until he had to go to jail for rapeabusement. This man has rapped about how much he hated the man who killed his sister and things like that, then in the end he goes out commits almost the same crime as his sisters boyfriend. Why should I rely on stupidity like that. Be cautious who you're choosing when it comes to rolemodels. Everyone can make mistakes, but when you're and artist, I don't think you must be paradoxical. Peace

  • KEVKCTOSD

    Damn i dont usually read dx articles but this one was well written and very factual. Big ups to dx and the writer.

  • Shawn200

    Article of the Decade HANDS DOWN!! As a artist the only way to go out is not by the artists choice. It has to be somthing outside and greater than themselves to cause it. Why deprive fans of comming together on a single emotion because of a personal ego or confinement in a box that they have to much pride to ask for help to get out of. If the sales are bad just try somthing different. If its going to be your last album do make a big ordeal of it cause thats the line of crossing in to looking for Sales.

  • ENIGMUE

    Luke, great article! would love to know what inspired you to write this and how long it took

  • ahmayheco

    Very impressed with this, i think it really speaks to fans and aspiring artists. Its not as much appreciating the fans as it is appreciating the art.

  • treaeltic

    this is a very good article i have been feelin like this a long time if you gonna retire early why even rap in the first place?and why do rappers feel like they have to stop at a certain age hiphop isnt just for young people it really pisses me off when rappers say shit like they r gonna stop rappin in there 30s like its something wrong with it if u feel like that than dont fuckin rap at all dumb ass niggas its music singers and rockstars do this shit untill they 60s or older

  • Am Impressed

    What an amazing article, at first i was like am not gonna read all this, but there was so much truth in it, that i couldnt stop reading. To be honest, i dont think Game or Kid Cudi will be deeply missed when they leave but Lupe Fiasco will be terribly missed. Dont do it Lupe, Dont Do it

  • rocklee916

    MUTHAFUCK ME THAT WAS A GREAT ARTICLE. Now on a more serious note, the author of this article is absolutely correct. certain artists play that particular card in hopes, it seems, of gaining sympathy. The Killa Mike quote was great. When Scarface dropped Emirtus, I was heartbroken, but at the same time, I was glad to see him leave on such a strong album. The thing is, when someone like Facemob says its a wrap, He deserves to say that. He's been one of the greatest for over 20 years now. By far my favorite emcee (along with 3000 and Ghostdini). But someone like Game pulling that "I'm retiring from rap" shit is GARBAGE. After 3 albums??? Negro Please!!! Cats like that have not put enough into the game to just up and announce thier retirement. If you want to walk away, then do so without the fanfare. Just GTFOH and let someone else bring something new to the fans and lovers of good music.

  • harris89

    realest article i've read on here in a while, maybe ever. very well written too.

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  • TheCalm

    I think thats whole Jay retirement was only done to get attention off of G-Unit. Remember at that time they ran the industry and Jay needed some steam for his album. He claimed he retired but then came out again like his usual schedule. Every 2 years he comes out with a album. But thats just what I think. He needed something to go against the buzz G-Unit had in '03.

  • nice...

    church! even though i blame jay for starting the trend. that xxl part i'm only now reading and since kingdom come i've been in suspense like this might be this niggas last joint. to be real i'm the type of nigga once i make a decision i'd stick to it so i thought it was a bad look when jay did that and he came back but since black album i got 3 albums of good music so i'm still in a good mood.

  • Kido

    great read. Attention seekers have no business doing it just to do it.

  • D.D.410wutup

    Great post. On some real shit. If you have talent, please don't give it up. Keep pushing the boundaries.. Real fans would greatly appreciate it.

  • nastynas4life

    wow..great read. Now thats some real shit right there...

  • dpac

    This article is so true na mean God gave each and one of us talent to use like 2pac said "God blesses the hustler, Curse's the first sleeper" that means if God gave you the talent to sign or rap create poetry that means that is how God made you, like ur reference to Common he is acting now but he still knows that he will continue to make music because that is how God made him...This artists are settling for less like there are going to sleep when they stop making music that is why Jay z is still making music because he still has a means to create na mean u hustle until u reach eternal sleep u sleep when u die... unfortunately that is what 2pac, Biggie, Big Pun, and Big L did

  • malo

    nice. good point. kid cudi needs to wake up and realize how lucky he is..he seems like such a gimmick to me now.

  • rollup343

    Great read, i think the reader hits it on the head when he talks about retiring for promotional purposes. Everytime i hear i quit, i care about that artist less.

    • Realish

      Good read, love the last paragraph. When you think about it's hard to really rooot for some of these artists because you feel like they are trying to play you out.

  • bloghappy

    It's not about thinking you're bigger than rap, I can understand the boredom because hip hop fans ALWAYS get mad when you try to do something different. Outside of people like DOOM, Andre, Cee-Lo, etc., if you don't establish yourself as something out of left field, fans react badly. Not to mention that the media is terrible. The majority of hip hop's fanbase are children. All the "beef" that goes around. Is it really surprising that people wouldn't want to stay in this environment?

  • Untitled

    Excellent post. Rappers are scared to be Hip-Hop artist. Most only chase the fame & fortune and get stuck artistically with their declining sales. The retirement talk is a tool to try to generate a buzz again.

  • Kalisa

    Great read.... so happy my fav MC L. Hill is making a comeback ... I thought she retired but she has just evolved as an artist.

  • Todd Whitney

    great article. if they are "truly artists" they will always create.

  • Austinb

    Fantastic article! Like you said, artists see "retiring" as promotion, nothing more. It's lame & needs to stop, no doubt.

  • cvghdfghdf

    good article. this is a dialogue that needs to be opened

  • quebishop

    This was a good post. It is ashame that some of these rappers would work so hard to gain this exposure and then allude to quitting over some b.s. If you're as creative, and innovation as you say you are, then retirement shouldn't be in your thoughts, especially at such a young age. Rock groups seem to be able to go on forever like you have Ringo Starr still performing, Ozzy, and even Dio was still performing before he passed away. In the case of Lupe, I think he is having the typical problems with the industry, with Lasers being postponed, which is causing this lack of interest in the game. He just released a C.D. with his group, Japanese Cartoon, so I know he isn't bored with music, just the politics of music.

    • malo

      I went to one of Lupe's shows on the Steppin Laser tour, and he talked about how at one point, he had become extremely depressed and suicidal, I imagine over the state of the world, and the things he had been dealing with in life. That's what his song "Beautiful Lasers" is about..makes sense, but I don't think he's using the whole "retirement" thing to exploit anything. Kid Cudi, though..that's another story.

  • Mr. I Rap Better Than U

    This is some real stuff maybe the best article i seen on here...but artist do just put up a "i'm retiring" alert for promotion..if your doing the music for the right reason though..you wouldn't even think of doing that for promtion..

  • Bert Scrizzy

    Its fucked up when those who are given the opportunity to create, don't even respect that opportunity. Fuck these cats who don't respect the art nor the people who support their art ... Your shit is wack, if you want to stop, fucking stop ... no need to go around hyping up some bullshit ...

  • RELEASTSHITHEVERWROTE

    SOME REAL SHIT. DAMN.