Rap Elder – What a Rap Battle can teach us about aging in America

musician performing on stage with camera lights

Posted: September 25, 2018

My educated guess is that when you think about transforming the culture of aging, rap music is not one of the first things that pop into mind. I understand that, but bear with me! I want to share a positive moment in a recent rap battle between 28-year-old rapper “MGK” and 45-year-old rapper “Eminem” that has relevance to how we’re transforming the way we think about aging in America.

MGK released a “diss” song aimed at Eminem, who is widely considered to be one of the best and most lyrically-gifted rap artists of all time. Hip hop rivalries have often manifested themselves in the form of the rap “diss,” a musical way of publicly expressing disrespect and dislike of a fellow rap artist. Unfortunately, one of MGK’s primary insults to Eminem was that he was too old to be a rapper. He referenced it several times in his song: “Em, you’re pushin’ 50”, “Don’t have a heart attack now/Somebody helps your mans up/Knees weak of old age, the real Slim Shady can’t stand up!” and “You’re not getting better with time/It’s fine, Eminem, put down the pen.”

These lazy, ageist generalizations come partially from the fact that Hip-Hop in its current form really only began in the 1980’s and 90’s, and at the time was the providence of younger men. Though most people would not consider 45 to be an advanced age, the most successful artists of that time, like Eminem, are beginning to become older than rappers traditionally have been. I was interested to see how Eminem would respond to this line of criticism – did he agree that he, like so many NFL Quarterbacks, was “aging out” of a young man’s game?

It turns out, he did not. In his response to MGK, Eminem raps “With your corny lines (“Slim, you’re old) – ow, Kelly, ooh/But I’m 45 and I’m still outselling you,” … “The game’s mine again and ain’t nothin’ changed but the locks,” and “It’s funny but so true/I’d rather be 80-year-old me than 20-year-old you.”

Eminem cleverly snapped-back, asserting that he might be in the first generation of aging rappers, but this has not changed his talent or his ability to sell records. (Or, obviously, his biting wordplay.) He also hits upon the powerful and rarely-stated idea that it is better to be an elderly version of yourself than a younger version of someone else. I love that!

Over the next few decades, we will see how the “Rap Elders” transition into elderhood, and whether like so many Rock ‘n Roll stars they will continue to create new music and go on tours to be supported by their also-aging fans. I hope that they do. Watching elders refuse to be sidelined by age and continue to grow into their purpose and their power – that’s why we’re here!

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