For a long while, I have spoken about how much I hate when my heroes grow up. That typically means that there was once a time when they were really pushing the envelope, especially from an artistic standpoint, and much of that included a certain amount of immaturity and even a bit of childishness.
My two favorite hip hop artists of all time happen to have traversed that path, much to my dismay:
JAY-Z and Eminem.
Don’t get me wrong, but I really admire their evolution and their willingness to become much more responsible men in middle age than they were as they blasted onto the scene in the 1990’s.
It would actually be sad and a little pathetic if they hadn’t grown significantly by now. As a fan, I appreciated that version of themselves, and I am so fortunate that those versions of these men are frozen in time through their music videos and their iconic discographies.
Shawn Corey Carter, a.k.a. Young HOVA, JAY-Z
JAY-Z released his major label debut album, Reasonable Doubt in June 1996. For as gritty and street oriented as it was, the world was still consumed with the boisterous 2Pac, who was the undisputed king of hip hop in ’96 in the opinions of many.
It wasn’t until 1998, after the murders of both ‘Pac and his East coast rival The Notorious B.I.G. had taken place that Jay began to dominate the genre. Thanks also in large part to his brilliantly commercial third album, Vol.2…Hard Knock Life, his star suddenly exploded and continued for many years.
This is when Jay, a rich and famous man in his late 20’s, epitomized the hedonistic lifestyle as he made numerous catchy songs that were misogynistic in nature, though highly successful. He made no secret of his affinity for the decadent world of beautiful women in excess.
Beginning in 2002, JAY-Z began dating music superstar Beyoncé and by ’08, they were married. These days, Jay, now 51 years of age has mellowed and matured considerably. He safely stays far away from making music even remotely sexist or “pimpish.” Hell, he barely even makes music at all. He is a very influential business executive worth more than a billion dollars.
Marshall Bruce Mathers, a.k.a. Slim Shady, Eminem
For Eminem, he exploded onto the scene in February 1999 when his major label debut, The Slim Shady LP hit the shelves and he was controversial right out the box.
Blonde hair and blue eyes belied a very sardonic wit, and willingness to say some of the most shocking things ever recorded. He was a constant middle finger flipping, unapologetic murderer of his baby’s mama, raper of his own mother and a general psychopath on record that pissed off tons of white parents.
Em was a raging drug addict and relentless partier. He was well known to initiate beefs on record and ridicule a litany of celebrities in his rhymes. I loved every minute of it, and it only makes sense in retrospect that he and JAY-Z joined forces in 2001 to co-star on the classic track, “Renegade.”
Both men at that point in time were at the apex of their careers artistically, if not also in sheer popularity. And it was no coincidence that they both proclaimed their lyrical fearlessness on the hook to that song, declaring that they have “never been afraid to say what’s on [their] mind at any given time of day” because they are in fact, renegades!
2008 was also a pivotal year for Eminem. While JAY-Z was off getting married, Em was getting sober and remains so to this day. He has been extremely laid back, even though he still brings his trademark shock lyrics to the table. But he has been a homebody and studio rat with no parties in between. He is also a dedicated dad and has calmed down considerably in his raging vitriol with anyone.
As I said, it sucks when my heroes grow up. I don’t have to like it, but I definitely respect it.