Oh y’all thought I was washed? I’m at the cleaners/Launderin’ dirty money like the TeamstersJAY-Z, “Smile”Rap is supposed to be a young man’s game, right? The saying is a fallacy for a culture that has barely entered its third generation of fans. However, it’s been the topic of many conversations where fingers are being pointed across the age divide in an effort to shame the other side into the realization that their generation is ruining hip hop.Back in 2015, Young Thug spoke to GQ in detail about this concept.“I don’t want to be 50 years old and rapping, man,” Thugger said. “I’m pretty sure nobody wants to do that. I’m pretty sure Jay-Z don’t wanna rap right now.”It’s a sentiment that has been blindly shared by many without really considering the foundation of the conversation.“If you’re 30, 40 years old, you’re not getting listened to by minors,” he continued in an attempt to contextualize his statements. “Like, Jay-Z has some of the sickest lyrics ever, but I would never buy his CD, just because of my age and because of his age. By the time I turn that old, I ain’t gonna be doing what he’s doing.”But with Jay-Z’s 13th studio album burning up social media and spiking the subscriptions to his streaming service Tidal, the 47-year-old obliterated everything that the 25-year-old stated and proved that being dope doesn’t have an age limit or expiration date.Rapping isn’t an athletic event where your body eventually breaks down to the point where overall skill deteriorates. As long as the mind is sharp, so are the skills. But only in rap music does this common thread exist and become a point of contention. There is a reason why, however.Hip Hop never had the opportunity to be ran by rappers that are in their 30s and 40s. The reason being is that the culture is still relatively young. But after four decades we are starting to see emcees over thirty who grew up as products of hip hop leave a significant impression as artists. More importantly, their audience is growing with them.One thing that never made sense is the idea that an individual stops listening to hip hop cold turkey once they age past thirty. What are they supposed to do? Listen to jazz and folk music while in a rocking chair playing Parcheesi and eat Fig Newtons? The sentiment is ridiculously unfounded and was created simply because there wasn’t an opportunity to test the theory out. Hip Hop was created by young people so it has to forever be young, right?Wrong.With rap music churning through eras, there now is an opportunity to see if age actually matters in rap. And what better rapper to test out this theory than the one and only Jay-Z?Jay-Z’s 4:44 is the epitome of maturity in hip hop while proving his relevancy sustains despite his advanced age. Unlike Kingdom Come and Magna Carta Holy Grail, Jay finds humility in his boasts this go around. Yes, he’s still of the black capitalist mentality, but he’s learned how to maneuver that psychology into a stream of social consciousness and introspection that can resonate with the #BlackLivesMatter movement as well as old school civil rights activists. Rather than live on the edge with braggadocio that is unwavering in the ego department, Hov opens up a chapter of his book of life where failure is, in fact, both an option and a distinct reality.Rather than delivering bumper sticker lines such as the cinematic “I will not lose,” he’s less pretentious and more exposed than he has ever been. Whether his failures are still extraordinarily expensive real estate ventures (“I coulda bought a place in Dumbo before it was Dumbo/ For like 2 million/ That same building today is worth 25 million/ Guess how I’m feelin’? Dumbo”) or of friendships gone wrong where he addresses the individual by name (“But you ain’t a Saint, this ain’t KumbaYe/ But you got hurt because you did cool by ‘Ye/ You gave him 20 million without blinkin’/ He gave you 20 minutes on stage, fuck was he thinkin’?”) or with his marriage (“And if my children knew, I don’t even know what I would do/ If they ain’t look at me the same/ I would prob’ly die with all the shame/ ‘You did what with who?’/ What good is a ménage à trois when you have a soulmate?/ ‘You risked that for Blue?'”), we’re gifted with a side of Jay-Z that is a flawed human being who is living in his truth.
The revelation that Hov stepped out on his marriage was assumed by some to be a plot device to drive the narrative of Beyonce’s Lemonade album. However, the rapper doubles down by addressing his infidelity in broad strokes of honesty on the album. As the father of three, this is yet another moment that demonstrates the vulnerability that made rappers like Drake popular with a younger crowd.But don’t get it confused; he’ll still leave you feeling broke. However, he’s also here to deliver a crash course in financial freedom with one extraordinarily poignant line (“You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit”). Although he’s the king of subliminal shots, a more mature Jay-Z decides to call out his offenders by name, most notably, Kanye West.But perhaps the most significant element of the 47-year-old is the fact that he is no longer helping his community in silence. Rather than donating to the cause anonymously, Jay-Z has decided to step from behind the curtain to tackle social ills. The uneasy visuals in the video for “The Story of O.J.” is the latest installment of “Conscious Hov” that has made the decision to take a stance.
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