Given our culture’s obsession with youth, you’d think most rappers would just give up the mic at an age like 30, but that’s simply not the case. Recently, a cluster of rappers born in the mid-’70s to early ’80s has reached an apex or just embarked on a music career. The interesting connection that links them resides in the fact that they are in the life crisis stage that therapists call the fork-in-the-road.
The 30s crisis is a time for assessing and redirecting oneself before it’s too late to make changes. For the rapper who has lived through hip-hop’s many manifestations, it’s no surprise that these musicians would want to participate in fine-tuning it. And for those who didn’t get a chance to be a player in the genre at its dawn (or close to it), self discovery at 30-something might be the best answer to the questions: What am I doing with my life? And should I do something else?
Over the last year and a half, some of hip-hop’s most acclaimed albums have come from rappers in this age range. Take Killer Mike and El-P, for example. After previously collaborating in different ways—El produced Mike’s R.A.P. Music—They united to create their debut as Run The Jewels—an album arguably the most well-received in each of their individual careers. These two appeared on the scene as a duo at the ripe age of 38, and they brought with them experience and maturity. But, ironically, these artists approached their music profession quite differently. El-P, who co-founded New York’s alternative hip-hop record label Def Jux in 1999, has developed a reputation of resisting mainstream music corporations. As a result, one could argue that he limited his fan base to a niche of like-minded music lovers.
On the other hand, Killer Mike entered into the commercial hip-hop scene in 2000 with an appearance on Outkast’s Stankonia. Thus, Mike ran in the same circles as T.I., Young Jeezy, and others on the rise in ATL. The success of their collaboration as Run The Jewels may be attributed to timing. For although the 30s crisis implies a negative crossroad, this is not the case for all those finding themselves at this epoch. Well-known psychotherapist Carl Jung suggested that the so-called 30 crisis is a developmental stage where we turn our focus away from ourselves to the greater whole. Killer Mike and El-P have given us a better slice of themselves together as they both reached the fork-in-the-road, offering not only their talent but campaigning against police brutality, fuck-boys, and more.
It was also Carl Jung who spoke about the happenstances that seem to tell us something, to teach us, to turn our lives around. It may be an event that makes us feel like our life story is already written; the plot having its central theme focused on using a turning point as a blessing in disguise. One-time gourmet chef Action Bronson’s turning point came at age 28 following an ankle injury. Instead of wallowing in pain, he redirected his attention and career—to rhyming. And at a rather quick pace, his life took a new route and a major transformation occurred. Bronson’s newfound fan base as a rapper provided him an audience to showcase his skills with the mic as well as the spatula: living his life as both rapper and chef.
Thirty-something can also be a time to shed skin: the skin of pretense. And in doing so, discover who you are. This discovery might reveal itself as no longer doing what one thinks they should do as an artist, but expose what is at the core. For Open Mike Eagle, the core was feeling comfortable enough to deliver the avant-garde to his audience without worrying how it would be received. To his benefit, within the last 18 months his career has been boosted not only within the rap circuit, but also amongst comedians like Marc Maron and Hannibal Buress. Open Mike Eagle, who’s 33, was even named Best Los Angles Rapper of 2014 by LA Weekly.
Although, initiating change at 30-something for some people does indeed come from a point of crisis. But whether one finds themselves in an enlightening place or dark place, change at this stage in life is crucial. Rapper Danny Brown admits that he spent 10 years of his life trying to enter the music industry. And over the course of that time, he developed an addiction to Adderall. He says that it helped him create music and live the rockstar lifestyle. This addiction to Adderall opened the door to further drug use.
On Danny Brown’s breakthrough album XXX, a song entitled “Die Like A Rockstar” features the Detroit MC listing deceased celebrities in order to illustrate the hectic life he wished to emulate. For example, he spits “I want to party like Chris Farley” and “I got that Kurt Cobain type of mind frame.” Fortunately, Brown has made it beyond these superstars who died during this pivotal time in life. While not fully admitting to being completely drug-free, he has recently been referring to some drug addictions in the past tense. However, the crisis component to the fork-in-the-road at age 30-something does not always end well. One year after releasing the most experimental and promising release of his career, Minnesota indie rapper Eyedea suddenly passed on at the age of 28. Also, Pimp C died at 33 of an overdose of promethazine and codeine. Although the UGK rapper was already a big deal before turning 30, we didn’t get a chance to see what else he had to offer.
A rapper is no different from a rock star like Mick Jagger or Ozzy Osbourne, or a folk star like Bob Dylan. So, one should not expect a rapper to throw in the towel just because of age. Not all, but some rappers blow-it-out-of-the-box at this crucial time; rappers who haven’t cultivated move on to something else. The fork-in-the-road is just one of those pivotal episodes musicians have to process. Some come out of darkness into the light while others move closer to the light while still other’s lights just blow out. Without a doubt, another life change is on its way.