In Never Scared, Chris Rock had some fun riffing about what it was like to be a 39-year-old hip-hop head. And I can personally remember The Chronic dropping and talking with friends about how this would be our generation’s smooth-jazz retirement music. I’m still looking forward to bumping “Let Me Ride” as I lean back playing some Bingo at the senior center.
But what about when the rappers get old? Back in the day, KRS-One famously rhymed “No one’s from the old school, cause rap on a whole isn’t even twenty years old / Fifty years down the line you can start this.” Well, it’s not quite fifty years, but we’re getting close! And with Jay-Z and the Roots' Questlove and Black Thought over the hill, and Em turning 39 in a few days (Happy Birthday!), it feels like we’re ushering in a new era of Old Man Rap. I’d call it a Renaissance except it’s really the first time we’re seeing our platinum rap stars approach their platinum anniversaries.
I got to thinking about this because the ever-youthful-looking Nas, who is working on the tenth album of his 20-year career, and now pushing 40, dropped the video for his first single “Nasty" (above). It's a little sample of what his Old Man Rap game looks like.
I’m pretty sure “Nasty” is gonna hit most Nas fans like an adrenaline needle to the heart: “I come from the wheel of Ezekiel, sent to pop thousand-dollar bottles of scotch, smoke pot, and heal the people.” Now that’s what a hip-hop mid-life crisis is supposed to look and sound like!
And in contrast to Jay-Z’s too-much-money-to-relate shtick, we see Nas running through the usual list of
humblebrags before grounding it all with a return to his old neighborhood, hitting off a little homey with his rings (make sure you return those after the shoot, kid), dapping off an old dude with some 401K money at the 1:20 mark, and then walking into a Queensbridge project building and entering a familiar makeshift studio setup: Pro-Tools on the laptop, soundproof foam on the walls, and one mic in a closet. This is home.
Now the fact that he’s spitting like this with a 17-year-old daughter, two baby mamas, millions wrapped up in old taxes and child support, plus that recent interview in which told Tyler the Creator he’s "lonely as fuck," does give one pause. Are you sure Life is Good, Nas?
But maybe an old man needs that fire in order to spit that fire, nahmean? And if Nas can pull off the rap version of David Duchovny in Californication, I’m tuned in and looking forward to the next chapter. Plus, the old battle with Jay-Z can now extend into middle-age years, with one rapper going the married-with-children route, and the other living a bachelor-daddy life with cash stuffed in the sofa. May the best old man win.
Patrice Evans is a Grantland staff writer. Check out his (excellent) book Negropedia: The Assimilated Negro's Crash Course on the Modern Black Experience. And for more on TAN, see his Q&A with The New Yorker.