Growing Pains

Today (May 21st 2007) the late Notorious B.I.G being would be celebrating his 35th birthday, and 2Pac would be approaching his 36th birthday. With them both perishing in their mid-20’s, their legacy has been preserved at their mind state at that time – some would call it a negligent and immature mind state, but nonetheless it has captivated all involved in hip hop culture. So with them being seen as somewhat a benchmark for hip hop does that mean that the genre hasn’t matured, even though some that are involved in it clearly have?

As unlikely traditional role models, their imperfections have been made acceptable due to their persona and exceptional lyrical ability; the hip hop community has a soft spot for the semi-autobiographical stories about the life they encountered in their respective neighbourhoods. Clearly we can empathize with them and the pain and joy they experienced, even when encountering the dizzy heights of fame and success coupled with their storied personal problems with each other. The imperfections in their respective characters have an endearing quality with their honest delivery and witty wordplay.
Fans may be drawn to the characters of Biggie and 2Pac due to the lawless attitude that is exemplified in a large portion of their music, but amongst their tall tales of the unforgiving street life they still contained some semi-conscious in their material, especially that of early 2Pac material such as his debut album ‘2Pacalyse Now’.
The question must be raised of why the younger generation of hip hop listeners are more drawn to the lure of drugs, sex and violence, than to a more positive and some may say realistic message that someone like KRS-One has in his music? The lack of male role models in the household has always been an easy answer to the question, but there must be deeper reasons for this attraction of the younger audience.
With society as a whole forcing ideals upon us in various forms, especially in the media, it seems only natural for hip hop listeners to have been intrigued by the frank and detailed accounts of the lives and tales of these two men. Being seen as somewhat anti-establishment they made no secret of their experiences in the criminal underground and also of their lackadaisical approach to women that is overtly apparent in some of their most famous songs.
2Pac and Biggie have been immortalized and preserved in youth culture due to their premature deaths, and their message such as ‘Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems’ and ‘Thug Life’ have become stereotypical hip hop rhetoric – both in the genre and the culture. Their music has lived on well after their deaths and has been re-packaged in various manners in order to keep their name fresh and relevant, therefore the years have elapsed but the message remains the same. However if both had survived and went on to live would the message have changed and matured as they surely would have?
Jay-Z, who is currently 37, is now at the stage where both 2Pac and Biggie would have been and seems to be torn with what message he wants to portray. On the one hand he has recently been involved with work in Africa and participated in the ‘Water for Life’ tour to raise funds for the poverty-stricken. And even in his lyrical content, recent album, ‘Kingdom Come’ had the introspective addition of the track entitled ‘Minority Report’ which analyses the horrific situation arisen by Hurricane Katrina, “Sure, I ponied up a mil’ but I didn’t give my time/So in reality I didn’t give a dime/or a damn, I just put my monies in the hands/of the same people that left my people stranded/Nothin’ but a bandit, left my folks abandoned”. On the other hand he still recites the poetry of a braggadocios, womanizing player on ‘Show Me What You Got’ even though we’re all aware of his relationship with Beyoncé, “Mami frontin’ but I’m so determined/Shots of Patron, now she’s in the zone”. Torn between his past and his present, it exemplifies the struggle that the ageing rap hierarchy are going to have to deal with.
Age seems to be a growing concern for those in the forefront of those in music and Jay-Z’s feud with Diplomat member Cam’Ron and Jim Jones in 2006 saw him slated for being too old for hip hop and its desired image by the pair, “How is the King of New York rocking sandals with jeans?” Cam’ron jibed on ‘Gotta Love It’. Akon has also recently been trying to run away from his age, allegedly 35, in the wake of the ‘simulated rape’ fiasco involving a 14-year old girl in Trinidad, ”In the [music] game, once people know exactly how old you are the count down begins on how long you going to be here.” It seems as though they are in a music industry where reaching your twilight years doesn’t bring as much respect and admiration as it would in other forms of entertainment.
Someone like KRS-One – who is 41 and still actively part of the hip hop community – is shunned by the younger audience of listeners who deem him as irrelevant due to his parent-like stature and demeanour, even though he is revered by more accessible hip hop icons such as Nas (who is still only 33 with a career spanning 2 decades in hip hop, by the way). So would today’s average hip hop audience grow tired of a 36 year-old 2pac telling them to ‘Toss It Up’? Or a 35-year-old Biggie continuing to recite the dealings a street corner hustler? Probably not.
Hip hop was founded on youth culture and has evolved into a fundamental part of young peoples’ upbringing. Why is it that classic hip hop tracks from the likes of EPMD and Big Daddy Kane aren’t played on radio stations such as Heart FM and Magic FM? Because the message is still a predominately young one, even though those that made it and listened to it at the time aren’t. The counter-culture ideals that frequent hip hop lyrics are a great attraction to those under the age of 40 as they still aren’t too old to misunderstand the plight of the youth.
Some say hip hop will never die.
That may be true, but only due to the fact hip-hop will not be allowed to grow old.