Jay-Z and the Politics of Rapping When You’re a Middle-Aged Man

NYT writer dissects new album, shows why it's just a new stage of rapper's life.

July 19, 2017 11:55 am

To most “old school” rap evokes the image of Adidas-wearing, gold-chained Run DMC or the anthemic choruses of Naughty by Nature (“hip hop hooraaaaay, hoooooo, heeeyyyyyy, hoooooo …”).

But as The New York Times notes, what do you call it when it’s rapped by a 47-year-old man? Just “old”?

Not at all … when it comes to Jay-Z, that is, argues the Times‘ Wesley Morris. On his new album, 4:44, released last month, the rapper is showing an ageless maturity as hip-hop’s “elder statesman.” Morris goes on to say that the album “demonstrates a way that certain black artists can reckon with middle age—by accepting the emotionalism, humor and self-criticism that come naturally to a current generation of younger rappers.”

That, and the fact that Jay-Z has always rapped like a “mafia don,” making his words seem older than the man doing the rapping.

But Morris does make note of what came before it—Magna Carta: Holy Grail—and how it seemed tired. Had the rapper run out of ideas in his 40s? Was it a “midlife crisis”?

Says Morris, perfectly, the new album is like his first trip to a psychiatrist. “4:44 is Tony Soprano at his first couple of sessions with Dr. Melfi. He’s not totally sure why he’s here and is occasionally petty about it.”

Watch Jay-Z’s video for “4:44” (the song) below.

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