In any music scene there is a place for folks just looking to enjoy the sounds of the glory days. For any one year of rock music you can find a fan who insists that was the peak of the genre, and it’s all downhill from there. Generations come and go defending The Beatles, Rush and Nirvana as real music, and even buying into new acts who can recreate the right style (or thrash copycats who miss the mark). Indeed, the river of dad-rock runs deep and bends to follow a tour bus around on Rolling Stones reunions.
Hip-hop, however, is still young. While Paul McCartney will turn 71 during this Planet Weekly issue cycle, Tupac would be only 43 were he alive today. The oldest hip-hop fans have only recently looked around and realized that the business no longer caters to them, and hence springs the new canon of dad-rap: music from back when real hip-hop ruled the airwaves, and none of this ringtone-pandering nonsense. From most perspectives, the genre is alive and well, but the experience of watching the legends of the not-too-distant past descend into irrelevancy ranges from nostalgic to profoundly uncomfortable.
As far as living examples go, Wu-Tang Clan fits the dad-rap bill as well as anyone. The rap collective has claim to one of the greatest hip-hop classics, 36 Chambers, and launched the solo careers of Ghostface, GZA, Raekwon, and even more rappers who have been responsible for classics of their own. Most of the original members are fathers, and their diehard fans are coming to an age of parenthood, passing the genre down to a second generation.
Wu-Tang’s legacy is stronger than the actual group has been since their debut. Since 1993 they have constantly been struggling to get everyone in the same room to record something, barely saving a minute between quarrels and solo efforts to actually be the Wu-Tang Clan. As time goes on they become more icon than artist, serving more as a North Star of hip-hop than a ship on its own voyage.
Wu-Tang recently announced a new double album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, their first full-length release since the shaky 8 Diagrams. Like any precarious comeback, there is a twist: A handcrafted silver case somewhere in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco houses the only copy of the album to exist, and it is reportedly selling for $15 million dollars.
There’s plenty of talk about how this experiment could change the way we commodify music, but these new guidelines only apply to artists of sacred-cow status, who we have stopped expecting to produce music at all. That kind of money doesn’t go toward an installment in a steady succession of great work. Those millions were donated to the desperate wish for Wu-Tang to be “back.” The album could be great, but it won’t change the fact that this is the legendary group’s second time around. See Springsteen fans for guidance on how to enjoy new music without expecting another “Born in the U.S.A”
On the uncomfortable side of falling stars is Jay-Z. There are more 99 Problems references in pop culture today than any acknowledgment of his recent albums, yet he still lauds himself as a cowboy in the Wild West of music (a comparison he made with a straight face, somewhat proving my point).
The meteor of extinction for Jay’s creative output was a meaningless retirement announcement that rivaled any pro athlete’s, and a half-hearted comeback with Linkin Park that made most fans wish he had settled down on a beach in Cabo. His rags to riches story has been rung dry, and the rich half of the narrative has transformed the rap titan into a kind of foolhardy king who no one has the will to criticize.
Jay promoted Magna Carta, Holy Grail as an album-app, a title some found confusing and others found insulting to their intelligence. The content was mostly lists of trendy designers rhymed with expensive items, and expensive features polished by expensive producers. At this point nothing will convince the man that throwing money at songs will not make them interesting, but he will undoubtedly repeat his mistakes until his profit margins are in the red.
Perhaps the newest entry into the dad-rap pantheon is Curtis James Jackson III, better known as 50 Cent. His landmark album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was one of the most celebrated rap albums that performed just as well commercially, and the record-breaking lead single, “In da Club” was rap’s most successful song ever at the time. With such a firm spot in hip-hop history, it’s hard to believe but that was only 11 years ago.
After losing a sales-war with Kanye West’s Graduation, the jewels in 50’s crown certainly lost some luster, but his newest album truly sealed him deep in the hip-hop catacombs. Animal Ambition is a long-winded, asthmatic attempt to match the bravado of 50’s early years, with no break from the half-hearted boasts claiming he’s still at the top of the food chain. These empty boasts are fine for an underdog, but 50 is so far past that stage that the real underdogs don’t even want to associate with him.
Apparently his gangsta rap inheritance can’t even buy the savvy to squeeze out one viable radio hit, though not for lack of trying. His track with Trey Songz, “Smoke” is an awkward translation of Pitbull and Flo Rida songs, like a funhouse mirror that shows what radio rap sounds like to dads driving their sons to soccer practice. Coming from a new artist, this could be almost humorous. Coming from 50 Cent, it’s just kind of sad.
But such is the cycle of fame and talent. The old makes way for the new. Supernovae burn out and their remains scatter to form new and brighter stars. Have a happy Father’s Day!

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