Hip-hop’s elders still have a story to tell

Kenan Draughorne | Daily Trojan

With every aspiring teenage artist who breaks through the noise with a chart-topping hit comes a reminder that hip-hop is a young person’s game, a truth that has proven historically true. It’s relatively rare that you see a newcomer over the age of 30 arrive on the hip-hop scene, and even for those who have been active for years, questions of identity crises and growing out of touch can at times be far too common.

Eminem experienced this shift first-hand soon after the release of his latest album Revival, which was panned for its bland attempts at shock value and raised questions about the rapper’s abilities given his age. Before Shawn Carter gave us the wisest album of his career in the form of the landmark 4:44, even Young Thug called Jay-Z “too old” to be rapping, citing a disconnect between his music and the younger generation.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for more seasoned artists to play a role in shaping the landscape, however — in fact, many have found success by embracing rather than resisting their seniority. The veteran MC Phonte is among the best in that category, with mature bars that contain life advice for those in need, and his latest album No News is Good News is no exception.

Phonte keeps it short and sweet on the 33-minute project, touching on a range of topics while also taking an introspective look at himself. Much of the heaviest content comes in the stretch between “Expensive Genes” and “Cry No More,” as the 39-year-old rapper addresses health issues in the black community and how this has directly affected his own life. Opening the former song with a distorted sound clip of a routine doctor’s office check-up, Phonte proceeds to term blackness as “the most expensive gene of all,” as his fears have shifted from the trials of life in the inner-city to that of his own body breaking down from the inside.

“I wish that I could fit in these expensive genes / A waistline that’ll rip the seams,” he expresses in the song, describing how unhealthy eating habits over the years have taken a toll on him. On “Cry No More,” he details how some of these concerns stem from the death of his father, rapping, “Put my pops in the ground / And hit the repass and ate the same sh-t that killed him.”

Effren Villanueva | Daily Trojan

There are a variety of reasons why health issues affect African Americans at an elevated rate, especially later in life, including family history, poor eating and disproportionate access to quality care. However, the subject often goes unaddressed in the overall discussion of the state of black America, and is especially absent in hip-hop. Even with more conscious artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T. and Joey Bada$$, health is rarely the center of their messages, as the equally important questions of police brutality and institutionalized racism often come to the forefront.

It’s a message that needs to be heard, though, and the direct impact that poor health patterns have had on Phonte’s life makes it that much more rational that he is the one to tell it. The North Carolina-based MC has always had a poignant pen when it comes to social issues, but health-related lyrics are relatively recent, likely a product of his own aging and a shift in his personal priorities.

Rapping one’s truth is arguably the most important aspect of a successful career, a relevant fact no matter their age and status. For those who have more experience than many burgeoning artists have years on earth, though, it’s especially imperative, as their unique perspective can extend the conversation in a way that others are unable to. Don’t write off an artist just because they aren’t part of your own age demographic; they just might be saying the things you’ll wish you’d paid attention to when you reach their point in life.

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Kenan Draughorne is a junior majoring in journalism. He is also the lifestyle editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “To Pen a Butterfly,” runs Mondays.