Rap's Midlife Non-Crisis
In the family of American-bred music genres such as jazz, country, blues, funk, and R&B, rap is the youngest and arguably one of the more constantly evolving genres of them all. But even the baby of the family eventually grows up and transforms into a larger-than-life composite of its history. As we are in the midst of rap's fourth decade of existence, newcomers to the genre as well as their predecessors continue to produce beats, rhymes, scratches, and mixes that are carrying the stories, dreams and reflections of youth, from generation to generation. With a list of pioneering rappers that is now longer than ever, it's a perfect time to look back at the legacy of rap music and ask, "Has rap hit its middle age?"
While young rappers continue to emerge, many veteran rappers have maintained their relevance. MCs such as Jay-Z and LL Cool J offer a seasoned yet intense energy just as strong as young guns such as current 55th GRAMMY nominees Big Sean and 2 Chainz. Somewhere in the middle, artists such as Kanye West, Common and Cee Lo Green represent the middle passage between pioneers and newcomers with their own brand of musical longevity. Meanwhile, 20-something artists such as Drake, Nicki Minaj, Frank Ocean, and Wale serenade the airwaves and MP3 players of the Millennial Generation.
What's even more remarkable is how rap's generational influence often blends together to impact both middle-aged and coming-of-age fans. This fusion is what makes artists such as Jay-Z, West and Ocean so powerful, and includes artists such as Busta Rhymes, Chris Brown, Ludacris, and John Legend.
So the answer to the question proposed above? Yes, rap music may be approaching middle age, but it's certainly not showing signs of aging. While the genre has continued to evolve over the years, it remains true to itself, producing raw and honest rhymes that never compromise rap's roots or neglect its veterans.
The lasting power of rap was recognized in 2011 when The Recording Academy inducted its first rap recording into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame: "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five Featuring Melle Mel & Duke Bootee. And this year, GRAMMY nominees in the Rap Field span veterans such as Nas, Jay-Z and West to newcomers such as Big Sean, Pusha T, Ocean, and Wale, among others.
Whether you rock the bells or watch the throne, rap music has become the "cool uncle" of music in a way. And there are plenty of "nieces" and "nephews" who are keeping the genre alive and relevant.