Jay Z may have made his way into the early stages of late 40s on Friday, but with him it’s interpreted differently. Hip hop is often deemed a young man’s sport but it’s proven that Hov makes 46 seem like more like the new 26. Maybe it’s because when we rattle off the list of '90s legends we think of those who began during the earlier period of the esteemed decade.
Nas officially broke onto the scene with his verse on Main Source’s “Live at the Barbeque” in 1991 (although most were introduced to him via Illmatic beginning in late ‘93). It’s like he’s older because he had Jay’s debut beat by two/three years but the Queensbridge legend is technically four years younger than Jay. More recently, we think of 2 Chainz as a fresher artist comparably speaking. But he’s 38.
Snoop Dogg and Juicy J have both remained commercially relevant for over two decades but let’s be honest, no one is checking for them on the level of Brooklyn’s Finest. Lyrically, Jay has seen better days (and I’m putting that in the most polite way you’ll ever hear from me). Magna Carta Holy Grail was much anticipated but you’ll find few who believed the album matched its hype. So what makes us still care about Jay’s every move?
It’s really the spectacle, and that’s not patronizing him at all. Jay Z is the greatest rapper of all-time when it comes to reinventing himself. His music career is like a popular person’s teenage years: they’re on every trend while remaining cool with everybody. Jay’s no teenager anymore though. He’s more like your cool uncle but with both wisdom and flash. I think that’s why we still care about him so much. He’s the only artist over 45 (aside from Dr. Dre, but that’s a different story) who, if they dropped an album five minutes ago, would make your socials be in shambles.
It can’t be the music though. Again, we haven’t had super quality consensus on a Jay release since 2007 with American Gangster. Even headlines outside of strictly project drops have him longing for earlier times. His Roc Nation Sports is facing a $20 million lawsuit and he’s recently been sued for copyright infringement (although he won that). And the less said about Tidal the better. But if you ask fans, or even detractors, I think most will tell you it doesn’t matter.
Jay aligns with our own hopes and dreams of being a superstar and that’s where his relevance remains. We love Nas and hold him to that luminary status among greatest rappers. But the elements of his importance don’t necessarily line up with the demands of younger listeners. Jay could fit on a song with Young Thug or Future tomorrow and while it may not be perfect, it would still work. Other '90s greats, not as much. The scathe of being dusty is something Jay’s been able to shake from day one. And he’s in a place by himself in hip hop when it comes to that.
Who knows how long Jay has for the rap world and who really cares? He’s a phenomenon who still knows how to run the bases. He’s Peyton Manning: a guy who revolutionized his sport more than anyone, and can still wing it enough to woo the fans. So cheers, Jay. We want you around as long as you can walk to the line. We love you in the owner’s box too.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
Paul Meara is a Columbus, Ohio native and resident. He’s written for Billboard, Complex, HipHopDX and NahRight, among others, and is still trying to figure out what millennium Jay Z will finally become irrelevant. Follow him on Twitter: @PaulMeara
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