Lil Peep, XXXtentacion, Juice Wrld, and recently Pop Smoke all died in quick succession as very young men, and others, like Mac Miller, were barely hitting their mid 20s stride when they died.
It makes it all the more impressive when artists such as Run the Jewels show massive longevity. EL-P and Killer Mike are genuine rap veterans at this stage, with EL-P in particular being a stalwart of the underground scene since his days in Company Flow in the early 90s. Killer Mike was an Outkast associate who was enjoying solo success over the years, and when EL-P produced the critically acclaimed ‘R.A.P. Music’ for him, it made sense that they would do more together.
Over four albums, Run the Jewels have become big hitters in hip-hop and one of the best live acts in the game.
What’s the key to their longevity? It’s hard to say really, but there’s a certain integrity at play when it comes to these two, and in hip-hop respect still goes a long way. If you don’t have the skills that counts for little, and they are a superb duo in that regard.
Longevity has also been achieved by the aforementioned Outkast, and even though they don’t really record together at this minute, Big Boi and Andre 3000 have little to prove when it comes to both their track record and indeed their relevance. Both are still in high demand as MC’s and if they did a new album tomorrow the world would be waiting with huge anticipation.
Others from the early 90s still active include Jay Z, Nas, Diddy, Cypress Hill, Snoop, Wu Tang Clan while going back further Ice Cube, Ice T, Public Enemy and a number of other big 80’s artists are still about in various forms.
In truth most of these are a bit sidelined these days with other avenues and there is far less interest in a new album by Ice Cube or Diddy than in what they achieve elsewhere. Jay Z and Nas can still draw attention on the mic, as do most of the better Wu tang members, while groups such as Public Enemy continue to tour (pre Lockdown) and be very active politically.
Ice Cube and Chuck D are just two of the artists quite outspoken lately about the racial tensions in America, and many of the problems which existed in the late 80s and early 90s are even more pronounced now in 2020.
The likes of Jay Z can drop an album whenever he wants, but his business empire seems more important, and you can say the same of Dr. Dre and Diddy. These guys have been there and done that and the last Dre solo album was a good indicator that his time as an amazing producer and solid rapper was well over. Instead it was Kendrick Lamar and Anderson Paak who helped make that tolerable, and I don’t think Dre would argue that it’s time to pass the baton.
Jay Z is as formidable as anyone on his day, but his wife is a far bigger superstar in 2020, while Diddy has always been more of a mogul and a tastemaker than an actual producer and rapper, though his ear for talent and samples was always good.
This is a new era and if you don’t move with the times you are gone. Nas is another of the all time greats, and he got Kanye West to produce an album a few years ago, which got us all excited, but despite some good tracks, it never really caught fire critically or commercially.
It’s unlikely we will ever have a point where Nas and Jay Z rule again, but it doesn’t tarnish their legacies really. It’s probably better to burn out rather than fade away in rap, which is why Biggie and Pac still reign successfully, but I’m sure they would have both liked to have lived a long life where they got to enjoy the fruits of their talents too.