By: Terrence A. Merkerson
Okay okay, yes. I know it’s been a while, but I’m here now and that has to count for something, right?
Anyway, I want to begin by saying that this is not an album review of any kind, nor is this a Jay Z praise session. This one is about the culture.
This is about Hip Hop.
My mom and I had a conversation a while back, after I took her to see Earth, Wind & Fire for Mother’s Day (it was really Father’s Day, though). In this conversation she asked me, “So when you are my age, who are you and your friends going to be able to see?” I remember thinking to myself, rappers, duh. But I took pause because as obvious as that answer was, it was also a little disheartening because some part of me felt like that I would eventually be too old to hit rap concerts. That feeling sucked. Hip Hop was never allowed to be able to grow up. Older artists seem to stop making music and transition their celebrity, wealth and talents into other avenues of entertainment (see LL, Queen La, MC Light, Ice T, Cube etc.). Hip Hop aged them out because that’s just what Hip Hop does and for the generation that witnessed the tail-end of the last great run of R&B music, our “Golden Oldies” tours started beginning in our mid-late twenties, not our 40s and 50s and that was depressing.
I remember being in high school around the time that The Eminem Show dropped. My baby sister was like three at the time and she knew every word to “Cleaning Out My Closet” (unfortunately, not the edited version… I’m sorry mama.) Em was 29 when The Eminem Show was released. Twenty-nine. I remember finding that out and thinking to myself, “Damn, he’s starting to be old AF to be outchea rapping.” I’m 29 now and Jay Z dropped an album (a great one, at that) at damn near 50. The irony.
The dark cloud that has always haunted the culture is that Hip Hop was always made by and for young, black people. The clothes, slang, disposition and the music has always been driven by young black folks. For late Gen Xers, Xennials and early-mid Millennials, the culture kind of displaced us, as we came of age during the time of the regionalization and over-commercialization of Hip Hop. It’s literally most of all we know, at least that we can truly claim as our own. It’s like kind of like leaving home for the first time. You know that it will ALWAYS be home, but it will never be the quite the same as what it was when it was all you ever knew. I try to keep up with younger artists (many of which I like or at the very least respect), but far too often, I find myself searching deep in to Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal playlists (yes, I subscribe to all three) to listen to the 90s and 2000’s, while also trying to not succumb to my urges to be the old man on the porch, waving my stick at the kids. We can complain all we want, but we have to let the new wave breathe. Let them do their thing. It’s okay. We’d be hypocrites if we were over-critical of them. It is tough, but at some point, we all have to accept that there are some things that just aren’t for us anymore, but that is an indictment on us, not them. I think we are more afraid that if Hip Hop isn’t for us anymore, what are we left with?
This is why I am thankful for Puff, Hov and Nas for staying here with us. I thank them for remaining relevant, important figures in the culture and not allowing themselves to become distanced from Rap or become relics like most of the rappers from the 80s, 90s and early 2000s. We need them and they recognized the foresight to see that they would be needed, so they stayed. They adapted. They realized that Hip Hop CAN grow up and I am thankful.
Jay Z’s “4:44” album is a testament to the idea that being older, more mature and more seasoned no longer has to be a handicap in the culture. It is an asset now. But it was so important that this album was good… more important that most of us realized. We needed to be good just as much, if not more, than Jay did. It validated “Grown-Up Hip Hop”. It validated that space in the culture and left room for that space to grow.
Terrence A. Merkerson is the Founder & Creator of Avenue Fifteen. Terrence earned Bachelor’s Degrees in both Political Science and Gender/Race Studies from the University of Alabama. Terrence also completed Graduate School at the University of Alabama earning a Master’s Degree in Communication and currently pursing a Master’s Degree in Business Administration at Louisiana State University.
He currently resides in Charlotte, NC.