In a recent interview with Complex about Andre 3000’s relatively new position as creative director for Tretorn, the interviewer naturally meandered into some questions about the future of 3-Stacks’ rapping career. To the disappointment of many, it doesn’t look good for a brand new OutKast album, let alone a solo LP. He went on to describe rap as more of a “hobby” for him right now, preferring the occasional guest feature to the effort and time it takes to put together an album. However, there was a particular tangent he went on about aging in hip-hop that didn’t quite make sense and which Complex chose to highlight in the subtitle, though the interview is seemingly intended to focus on his career in fashion design.
On the idea of rapping into his later years, Andre 3000 had this to say:
“Rapping is like being a boxer,” André continues. “No matter how great you are or were at a certain time, the older you get, the slower you get—I don’t care who you are. And I can feel that coming on. There’s always a new wave of artists, and sometimes I’m just like, ‘I’m good. I’ll let the young guys do it.’”
Rap is an intellectual pursuit, not an athletic one. While a rapper might get old and not be as able to rock a stage depending on whether they stayed in shape or not, age shouldn’t have any effect on a person’s ability to sit down and write a dope 16. The rap game is saturated with youth right now. There are 20-somethings putting out a ton of music and making a ton of money out there. However, without there being a system for quality control in place, the output of these young artists isn’t good or if it’s good, it doesn’t have the staying power rap music once had in greater abundance. Comments like this perpetuate the idea that everything new or young is a step forward in the culture, making the focus on age and not quality.
Whatever Andre 3000’s journey is, I have nothing but respect for it. He doesn’t need to make a solo debut or participate in another OutKast album if his heart isn’t in it. I wouldn’t want a rap album from a man that doesn’t want to rap – we’ve got enough people rapping just to rap. However, the message he decided to give Complex implies that there’s no country for older men in hip-hop. This is perplexing, considering the fact that his partner Big Boi (42) literally just dropped Boomiverse in June. At 47, Jay-Z just dropped 4:44. We’re about to get a new, posthumous Sean Price album on the 8th and he was 43 when he passed away. Rick Ross just dropped Rather You Than Me back in March and he’s 41. Hell, Andre himself was just on the latest A Tribe Called Quest album rapping alongside a 47-year-old Q-Tip on a track that sounded more “now” than anything else out at the time. Anyone saying that it’s not possible for rappers to still be good at 50 is just out of touch with very recent happenings and I think that’s the problem with Andre 3000’s views on rap music today. He himself doesn’t want to rap and that’s fine, but blaming it on age when your contemporaries are still out here and doing it successfully is both inaccurate and a cop-out. He spends some time singing the praises of the likes of Young Thug, ignoring the fact that the young rapper hasn’t put out a project better than some of his 40+ peers are putting out currently.
I’ve always thought that the most talented MCs all sound like they read and/or have gone through a number of experiences that would shape their style and rhymes. As you age, you gain more experience, in addition to your vocabulary and gaining new points of reference. Why would you not get better at rapping with age if you regularly practice your craft? Singing, I can understand, but rapping is a sport that you can only improve in if you started with the gift and hone it.
In all fairness, I think Andre 3000 was merely rationalizing his own reluctance to commit fully to rap. I don’t think he was intending anything malicious (he speaks highly of his relationship with Big Boi later in the interview), but I do think this specific message Complex pulled from the article is irresponsible and perpetuates this idea of rap as a young man’s game, which I don’t think it necessarily is anymore – if we’re talking ability to rap and not sales/popularity/exposure. While many may not remember when rap wasn’t a thing, rap is very new as a genre of music and hip-hop is a very young culture. Rap fans are just starting to get old and their lives are changing, just like the MCs they grew up on. We’re still working on defining the templates for what that growing old in rap looks like and figuring out how we carve out a space within this culture for us to grow old within. While the young content breathes new life and experimentation into the genre, we can’t sell our middle-aged MCs short in assuming there’s no audience for them to get those middle-aged bars off while experimenting and growing artistically as well.
I think there’s space for everything and that it should all meld easily. I’m currently listening to both Tyler, the Creator’s (26) Flower Boy and Jay-Z’s 4:44, both of which speak to very different places in those MCs’ respective lives and I believe that we needed both albums in hip-hop at the time they came to us. We needed Tyler to show us that there’s nothing wrong with youth, new energy and change when there’s undeniable artistry behind it. Jay-Z proved that grown man rap just might be the wave for aging MCs trying to figure out how they can stop rapping about the club and still remain relevant. And that doesn’t even touch on the deeper issues both albums bring to light in an incredible way.
Rap is about telling your story and bringing people into your world as it currently stands. Ice Cube took us to LA. Nas took us to Queens. Outkast took us to Atlanta. With regard to 50 Cent calling 4:44 “golf course music” at one point – in all seriousness, why can’t we have rap for the golf course? A lot of us who were fans of Jay’s earlier week in high school are now more likely to be found swinging clubs than pulling up to the club, so why can’t there be something for that set to relate to in addition to what’s already available for a younger perspective? Why do modern journalists and fans try to force out everything that came before? Meanwhile in rock, David Bowie was pushing 70 when he put out Blackstar two days before his death, an album that Metacritic named the most critically acclaimed album last year. If you know anything about rap or music in general, there’s obviously no age limit on artistry and I think that needs to be recognized in hip-hop by its vets, journalists and fans alike.
KIDS By A Tribe Called Quest Featuring Andre 3000