Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Hope I Die Before I Get Old?

30 is not the new 20. 40 is not the new 30. Yall should be so lucky.

OK, forgive me one last post about this whole aging thing and then I will write about it no more. Not until my next birthday.

One of the topics that came up at the Berkeley panel, and that I raised again last week at Duke is this: when generations speak to each other, what are we supposed to say?

At the 2004 National Hip-Hop Political Convention, it was clear that even after all these years and books and screaming matches and Congressional hearings, those of us who came of age in the 80s and 90s still hadn’t figured out how to communicate with those of us who came of age in the 60s and 70s. Not barely close.

When I sat in the audience at Cal’s Pauley Ballroom last week, I got a weird flashback. Two decades before, I had been a student listening to my heroes in the same room urging us to fight for UC divestment from South Africa and an Ethnic Studies requirement. I was a twenty-something listening to then-late thirty-, forty- and fifty-somethings talking about the unfinished struggles of the 60s and 70s they were hoping to marshal the energies of young folks to continue to fight.

It was a little disconcerting to see my peers up there, in the place of my Baby Boomer heroes, and have a sudden pimp-slap of self-recognition. Ouch.


Davey D raised a point about the lack of media for people of color in their mid-30s to mid-40s these days. It’s a point I’ve made myself, but didn’t realize the full implications of til he broke it down.

I’ll explain it like this: you can be a fan of rock, and have a classic rock station if you came of age in the 60s or 70s, an “adult alternative” station if you came of age in the 80s, an “adult alternative contemporary” if you came of age in the 90s, and another if you’re 20 right now. There’s no similar continuity–never has been–if you’re a fan of Black music. There’s a station aimed at 20 year olds and a station aimed at 50+ year olds.

I know Davey talks from experience. He literally hit the age ceiling at the end of the 90s at Clear Channel. It’s like: time’s expired, you’re in Logan’s Run and you’ve just hit 30, baby. And just you wait, young’n, for you too will have your Logan’s Run moment before too long.

(BTW that’s why Jay-Z lied, yall, about 30 being the new 20. But now I understand where it comes from–he, just like all of us, wants to continue the conversation, and he’s got something to say that, odds are, most people wouldn’t hear if it weren’t for all the money around him and that message.)

So where would one even begin to go if you wanted to hear a Chuck D or a Yo-Yo these days? If you wanted to hear a fortysomething and a twentysomething come together and talk like adults, like grown women and men, about what’s good and what’s next?

Joan answered the question at Duke: most likely, you’d have to go to a college. Tune in a college radio station, take a hip-hop studies course, check out a panel discussion at a university.

Now, in the past, this nostalgia would have come back as kitsch. (Anyone remember “The Last Dragon”? Of course not!) These days, seems like history is forgotten until it comes back as a Wax Poetics article or a musicblog entry. You ever wonder why hip-hop heads had to “rediscover” soul jazz during the 90s and why hip-hop heads have to “rediscover” Large Professor now?

The answer is a lot deeper than you think: It’s just the way American culture works. Maybe the generation gap isn’t just a development of getting older, maybe it’s a product of the way things are set up around here.


So, back to Davey’s point: what if one wanted to have a real intergenerational dialogue these days? Where would you do it?

The answer is that there is nowhere to do it. We gonna entertain the kids over here, and all the adults can gather over there and talk about how mad they are at the kids these days, what the kids don’t know about what we’ve been through, what the kids don’t appreciate about what we did, how spoiled are them kids, what is this racket they’re listening to anyway.

So instead, the lack of intergenerational discussion pops up in different ways–in all these anti-intellectual conversations amongst young folks about how pompous all this hip-hop-in-the-university stuff is, in–haha–blog discussions about what old folks ought not to wear, in old folks angrily claiming ‘hip-hop is dead’. Even ridiculous ways–bloggers saying they’re proud never to have read a book about hip-hop, young folks wearing pastel polo shirts with the collars up (still a bad look, fellas), young folks who only buy cassette tapes from the 80s.

I say all this to say that if we were really to get real about changing things, we might recognize that we’ve been niched, penned, and branded by age. We’re like cows sitting in our own filth cursing out the cows on the other side of the fence for their filthiness of their filth.


Alright. Back to life, back to reality.

posted by @ 6:58 pm | 11 Comments

11 Responses to “Hope I Die Before I Get Old?”

  1. Josh says:

    Good points all around. The blogosphere and internet in general may provide an initial arena for intergenerational dialogue. I’m 20 and I would go to work if there were elder/experienced leaders who spoke a similar language to me. With heads entering their 30s and 40s it could happen.

  2. Jim says:

    great post, spot on. Though a lot of it is specific to your scenario in the States, there is also some universal truth in there too.

  3. Zentronix says:

    j + j, thanks for the poz so far. i still think maybe hip-hop is actually that lingua franca we’ve all been saying it is.

  4. Dj Triple Threat says:

    have a sudden pimp-slap of self-recognition. Ouch.
    Don’t you hate when that happens.

    Not so shameles self promo>>>I have a post up on banning gangsta rap.

  5. Q says:

    Another point that should be made is the rappers that are in that age bracket continually try to go after that younger generation instead of trying to make stuff for the folks that got them where they’re at…

    I was talking to Slick Rick not too long ago and he said his next album will be for the adults… the folks that are his age. Why don’t more emcees do this?

  6. Zentronix says:

    q, you know that if you’re playing in the pop cultural space now, the incentives are overwhelmingly loaded towards 30- and 40-somethings not acting their age. i think if the culture were to open up space for them, it would be much different.

    i also think a lot of older rappers do make music for folks their age, but the perception is folks their age aren’t buying. but i think that has to do with distribution and marketing issues, with the way the game is loaded.

    how do you take a 38 year old to the market these days? answer: look at the way jay-z did it. he was marketed into every crossover niche you can imagine, from nascar to budweiser. even age niches: he did hp commercials for the late 30s and 40s set, he did dipset diss mp3s for the teenage set.

    james brown made a lot of his most popular and best music when he was in his late 30s. “sex machine” came out when he was 37, “soul power” when he was 38. he didn’t have to market differently to a million different niches. the structures of distribution and promotion were much different back then.

    on the other hand, if there were to be a legends of hip-hop tour right now, would we go? guess rock the bells might help answer that.

    so it’s a complicated question, and certainly no one here expects media monopolies to suddenly become enlightened. on the other hand, i think this is also why the media justice movement is among the most age-diverse of progressive movements.

  7. Ninoy Brown says:

    i’m pretty sure there’s been a couple legends of hip-hop tours that have been attempted. not sure how well they went.

    right before i left san diego in december, i remember one of the bigger venues, 4th & b, started to do a monthly “foundations” show, where “golden era” rappers performed. i’m not sure if they still do it, but when special ed came, they ended up making the show free cause they weren’t able to sell enough tickets cause there wasn’t much interest. it could have just been san diego though, since the scene out there is struggling.

  8. Q says:

    The thing is, watching the success of rock bands like The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and Aerosmith in their old age, how come hip-hop can’t have the same thing?

    I feel like the last albums from Jay-Z and Nas were both directed towards my age group (I’m 32)… and both of those albums were successful. I believe that 30 and 40 year olds would still buy hip-hop music if there was an artist that was making something they related to…

    Folks in their 30s and 40s aren’t going to the clubs anymore, they’re not living in the streets anymore… so why would they buy music that speak on that? they’re raising families and working… it’s just everyone else is scared to try to rhyme or sell something different… something they can even share with their children. I know parents who have sworn off hip-hop because of the language and message because of their children, even though they were banging NWA and Ice Cube back in the day…

    Hopefully with the success of Nas and Jigga’s last joints, we can get more mature content (and I’m not talking about sex & violence)… just need a label to invest in it…

  9. Nate P. says:

    When I was writing my EMP piece (about the way the RZA used vintage Southern R&B in the Wu-Tang Clan’s music), I was working under the impression that this sort of “kill your parents” thing wasn’t as prevalent in the hip hop and R&B worlds as it was in rock, where the “rock’n’roll is supposed to scare your parents, man” impetus is a lot more prominent. Things like Nas’ “Where Are They Now” tracks, the Isley Brothers’ recent crossover success, singers like Ne-Yo going retro ’70s (i.e. “Get Down Like That”), the ’60s/’70s/’80s pop song as standard in American Idol and the ever-present self-awareness in using old-school R&B samples in hip hop might be masking some underlying generational conflicts, but I haven’t seen a lot of shut-up-old-man tendencies in the music itself.

  10. Zentronix says:

    Nate, I think it happens less lyrically than in terms of sound. The battle aesthetic has moved from the stage to the studio. To the extent that the battle aesthetic hasn’t been killed by the major labels–this is a whole other discussion–it has to do with the tendency of new sounds to take over every couple of years. Perhaps this is the one place where big money and the infrastructure of the industry still actually backs innovation–even if it’s only coming from a smaller number of producers than in the past.

  11. Brother OMi says:

    what i would do? i would grab a few beers, sit down and build. We do it all the time around these parts… just build.

    but like you said, its really American Culture. I run into so called movie afcionados who don’t know what “logan’s run” is. I speak to young historians who never read the declaration of independence and choose not to. I can go on and on.

    we are all guilty of it. I was one of those cats who rediscovered jazz and soul in the early 90s.

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