Jay-Z and Ahistorical Ageism in Hip Hop

Jay-Z has been turning heads since he dropped 4:44. Many have lauded his album as a return to his classic-album-making-roots: dope beats, dope lyrics, and substantial substance. Others have called him out for either being judgmental, a hater, or an opportunist. Whatever position people take on his music, Sean Carter became platinum in less than a week due to Sprint presales and self-owned Tidal streaming. Therefore, all those turned heads got to witness a boss doing boss things: winning.

Within all the media circus and social media grandstanding about his album lied two issues that have seemed to plague hip hop for eons:

  • Ahistorical accounts of the genre.
  • Ageism

And both of these situations need to be taken to task for what they are: unnecessary issues that deserve to be aired out and hung to dry.

Jay-Z and Ahistorical Hip Hop Revisionism

First, there is the article by Michael Harriot. He claimed that Jay-Z’s album is the “first grown ass hip-hop album”. And his reasoning deals with the fact that this “grown ass album” proves that “hip-hop didn’t have a legend who was still making great, relevant art” until 4:44. And this is an understandable assessment to make. If you are on the outside looking in with such music, Michael Harriot’s writing would make sense.

The problem with his premise is that it just may not be based on a purely factual foundation. Harriot reserves Jay-Z’s status as the signifier for the entitlement of “1st grown ass album”. And that is shoddy within itself because “grown ass albums” have been made throughout the span of hip hop. Also, this isn’t even Jay-Z’s first grown ass album: that was done on Kingdom Come. Now, whether anyone feels that Kingdom Come was worth the listen is up to them. However, 4:44 is not the first grown ass hip hop album; it is the first grown ass hip hop album that many of the sleepers have awoken to.

Jay-Z and Ageism

Trying to review Jay-Z’s album, 50 Cent made some remarks that came off confusing in their honesty. From his perspective, 50 thought that the album was “aight” but “too smart”. He also made reference to it being “golf club music” and “you can’t be the best rapper at 47 because the new niggas are here” and “they coming with new shit going on”. With all honesty, 50 was probably being honest. He just feels Jay may need to let the new rappers do their thing while he gracefully bows out.

One of the bigger issues within hip hop has been ageism. Many people want old rappers to die off and let new rappers “take over”. Once a rapper reaches the age of 40, many fans feel that those “over the hill emcees” should just let it go and move on with their lives. Maybe these older rappers should either become executives, relish in their old lives on tours, or go be a mainstay at Vegas. Whatever the case may be, people feel that hip hop is no country for old men.

The only problem with that perspective is, at its core, it does not fly.

There are plenty of examples of old rappers that still make relevant, noteworthy music. Golf club music or not, Jay-Z is still a powerful musical force that moves units. 2-Chainz is not a young rapper. Nor is Kanye West, Eminem, or even David BannerKiller Mike and El-P are having a career rebirth as Run The Jewels and none of them are under 40. So, ageism in hip-hop seems to be as functional as the bogeyman is to scaring children: it sounds good until one realizes it is all bullshit.

Jay-Z Made Us Have a Conversation

At the end of the day, Jay-Z wins. He made people talk about him and that can turn into something respectable. He made a grown ass hip hop album, but it is not the first one in popular hip hop. He has also defied the idea of ageism (as many others have). At the end of the day, Jay-Z has successfully navigated the tumultuous terrain that is the hip-hop career. It may be time for many of us to take note and learn a thing or two.