Grown Man Rap: André 3000 And Hip-Hop Aging

Grown Man Rap: André 3000 And Hip-Hop Aging

Published Mon, November 27, 2023 at 1:40 PM EST

Fifty years down the line, you can start this cuz we'll be the old school artists.

- KRS-ONE, I'm Still #1

Arguably the biggest news in hip hop over the last few weeks was not a hip hop record, exactly, but a free jazz/flute/folk album, New Blue Sun, by André 3000. While André makes many people's Top 5, the rapper turned flautist, utters not a word on this new project, though the song titles are like kōans, micro-poems, as rich and ingenious as some of his lyrics. 

In an interview he gave to GQ Magazine, the more reclusive and quixotic half of Outkast, expressed his desire to "be a baby at something,” to learn from scratch, new again and stay on his student shit. Which is noble and humble and not surprising from a star that tends to shy away from the spotlight. And this has people shook it seems. A thousand memes have emerged, and some folks are tight in the comments that after a seventeen year hiatus from releasing a crew or solo record we have... this (which for me is a great contribution to space / ambient jazz).

Everyone has a right to wander, to follow themselves. To explore and grow and learn in the ways they deem important for their own life and maturation. And for sure... Michael Jordan can play baseball and Snoop could cook... I guess. 

To be fair, 3stacks has dropped some incredibly penned verses over the last decade or more. From Frank Ocean's "Pink Matter" to Killer Mike's Grammy nominated- "Scientists & Engineers", and the stunningly personal "Life of the Party" on Ye's Donda, to name a few, it is clear the skills remain sharper, more nuanced and complex than ever. 

He goes on in his GQ interview to say that he would love to make a rap album but would rather write a book or something (which would be dope if he did). But continues, "I ain't got no raps like that. Sometimes it feels inauthentic for me to rap because I don't have anything to talk about... I'm 48 years old... Like what do you talk about... I gotta go get a colonoscopy? What do you rap about?"


And these are fair questions to a certain extent, how does the maturing artist evolve, something I hope we are all wrestling with. These are certainly fair questions in cultures, both Hip Hop and broader American culture, that fetishize Youth. As if aging were shameful to some extent or wack even and not inevitable (hopefully). 

What has deterred Hip Hop from dreaming about its older age? Certainly there are numerous examples of other artists and art forms continuing to be productive as the years increase and the body slows. The Rolling Stones, Buddy Guy, Aretha Franklin, Toni Morrison, Bob Dylan, Faith Ringgold, Ed Ruscha (to name a few) are all artists that produce well beyond their "youth". So why is there a sort of stigma within Hip Hop that has the culture forcing itself to stay eternally childlike and at times, immature?

Some of it must stem from whiteness and patriarchy, I mean everything falls from these poisonous trees, and here I wonder about the coddling of men/boys and the limited examples of older male role models in various communities and the emphasis of cool we attempt to make synonymous with youth. There is often a paternalistic relationship between white ran/ owned media companies/record labels and Black artists and culture producers, particularly within Hip Hop, that want to skew forever to trend, rather than perhaps the actual, factual authentic. I mean this is something even Jay Z, has wrestled with and discussed on record and interviews to a certain extent. 

So I'm certainly not mad at André, how could I be at any artist that is doing their thing, plus dude is amazing and on his journey plus I'm getting A LOT from listening to New Blue Sun, BUT I do take umbrage with his thesis, that Hip Hop has to be youthful. I mean maybe club shit, maybe records for the ladies whatever the fuck that means, but Hip Hop has taught us about... everything. How to work, hustle, create, love oneself, one's community, one's history. Hip Hop taught us how to fuck safely, to read (at one point) and not do drugs (at one point). And the list goes on... So why stop now? Why not have records about taking care of oneself as we get older? 

For me, as an aesthetic, Hip Hop was always pushing toward to present, toward the now of experience, an existential reporting of crisis and the mundane. This kind of realist poetic can certainly be applied to looking in the mirror of maturation. Of having more raps behind than in front of you perhaps, but still a vehicle to communicate ideas and feelings and a sense of not being alone, which is one of the aspects of the culture I've always understood to be so essential. The communion and community in the cipher. 

So does that mean we are supposed to age, quietly? If André is walking around the world like Caine, I would love to hear about that shit. Colonoscopy raps could save a generation through early detection or whatever the fuck. I thought we were on some can't stop, won't stop, on some Dylan Thomas do not go gentle type shit. 

I remember listening to Little Brother's Getback, with the homie Idris Goodwin while driving through North Texas on our way back to Chicago. We got the CD from a Best Buy and put that shit in the factory-issued stereo system and heard Grown Man Rap. A genre we were aging into and very much in need of. It was about wondering if we should even be at the club and wrestling with heartbreak and what to make of a life of grinding, trying to be more intentional about where our energies were placed and the kind of art we put into the world. This is how I hope(d) Hip-Hop would evolve. 

And it has to some extent... Black Thought is progressively brilliant, same with Royce the 5'9" and Lil Wayne, who's 41 somehow, and STILL the most exciting emcee to appear before a microphone. On Brand New, which came out this year, with Tyga and YG, he rhymes, Brand new money, brand new hundreds / got a bunch of zeros, like a bag of new Funyuns. Little Brother themselves put out a two pack, Wish Me Well and Glory, Glory, which feel like they have only gotten better and hope it is pointing to a new, forthcoming album. 

We need more and more of this. Currently my brother and I are putting together a list of our Top 50 Hip Hop songs of all time to celebrate the culture's bornday. It's difficult to whittle down, but most of the songs on my list were made in the 90s and early 2000s. Some of that might be due to the fact I happen to be a head of a certain age, but I am not polarized like some of my peers into binaries of true school and everything else. I remain fairly versed as to what's happening now (s/o Raj and Rerun) and love so much of where the culture is at, and the contributions younger heads make to push all the shit forward. 

I guess I am left wondering about my generation’s ability and desire to continue to commit to the craft. On Aquemini, a song that IS on my top 50 list, André rhymes, "nothin is for certain and nothin lasts forever / but until they close the curtain.” And my hope is that we will continue to look into the known and unknown, into the abyss and record and report and create what it's like to be here, now, to represent where we are at, and have to the courage to continue to pen that great uncertainty and certainty we all face. 


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