It’s not easy growing old in Hip Hop. And it can happen fast. One minute, you’re at the top of the charts, rapping about the spoils that your superstar lifestyle brings. The next, a crop of youngsters has taken your place, some of them disrespecting the foundation you’ve laid for them. Fickle fans have forgotten about you, and label heads stop answering your calls.
But what about the rappers that manage to keep their names in the pot as they become seasoned veterans? For them, too, the game is tricky. At times, it can seem like a no-win situation.
If you explore different topics as an artist, i.e., moving off the block, you have fans that bemoan your unwillingness to get back to your street roots. Jay Z knows this all too well; there are fans who will never forgive him for crossing over from Reasonable Doubt. On the other hand, there are artists who stick with the same topics, rapping about the streets, or whatever the content may be, over and over again, until the fans and critics have grown weary of this retread. Such was the case when 50 Cent released the decent but all too familiar Before I Self Destruct.
In recent years, though, there have been a few rappers able to walk the fine line between artistic growth and returning to their roots by revisiting old topics from a more mature standpoint.
When Eminem announced that he was going to release The Marshall Mathers LP 2, it may at first have sounded like a forced attempt to recapture the magic of his 2000 opus. Quite the contrary; Eminem revisits the topics of The Marshall Mathers LP – his fame, his relationship with his ex-wife and mother, the backlash over his lyrics – from a more reflective view. Now in his forties, Eminem was able to view the hailstorm he was in during turn of the century from a more grounded standpoint. He’s apologizing to his mother for the pain he caused her in his rhymes, acknowledging fault on both sides in his relationship with Kim, and he is able to see how and why his fame affected himself and others both positively and negatively. The topics aren’t anything new, but the way he approaches them is original.
Scarface employed a similar strategy on his latest album Deeply Rooted, released Friday. The album, Scarface’s first in seven years, found him firmly entrenched in his roots while showing maturation as a man and artist. He still is rhyming about the goings on of his ‘hood, but he’s doing so as a man who can offer advice to the youngsters and steer them from a path that is ultimately self-destructive. He makes it clear that his drug-dealing tales on “Do What I Do” are not to be confused with glorification, and he reminds his audience that it ain’t “All Bad” on an upbeat, spiritual number. Such perspective makes for music that not only is fresh but provocative and one of the best albums of the year.
Again, it’s not easy to be a veteran in hip hop. There is pressure to meet the fans’ expectations, and sometimes, artists have groups of fans with wildly different expectations. The artists may feel they have to go back to their old sound to be as good as they once were or try their hand at the new sound to stay relevant.
But for veterans whose primary objective is to make good music, they may want to take a look at the most recent solo albums of Eminem and Scarface. These two seasoned veterans were able to put out good music not by trying to recapture old magic nor be something they’re not, but by putting a fresh spin on content that is from the heart.