This week, the release of LL Cool J’s latest single “Rachet” and Fat Joe’s “Instagram that H**" have generated debate around the internet as to whether the two artists seem credible making the kind of music that has been successful for their much younger counterparts. Both songs seem to be pandering to the teenage audience that likes artists like Drake, LI’l Wayne, Rick Ross and Nicki MInaj, but for each of them, the songs seem out of place given their age and past success. LL, born James Todd Smith in Queens, N.Y. put his rap career on the back burner some years ago to carve out a lucrative niche in films and TV. He’s currently starring on “NCIS: Los Angeles,” part of the CBS ratings juggernaut of crime procedurals.
Now that he’s a 40-somehing father of four, it’s difficult to see LL revitalizing his career with a song that complains about the rachet chicks that get on his nerves. LL ‘s career never depended on objectifying women – his hit “Round the Way Girl” was an appreciation of girls from the 'hood and even racier songs songs like “Dear Yvette”, “Doin’ It” and “Big Ole Butt” were always delivered a little tongue-in-cheek. As a rapper much more known for his wordplay, it’s hard to see him try to reenter the hip-hop arena with a song so obviously beneath his lyrical talents. And now that he’s hosted the Grammys and the Grammy Nomination concert, which airs from Nashville on CBS December 5, the public views LL much more as a senior statesman in music who might condemn its current rachetness rather than give in to it.
As for Fat Joe, the Bronx, N.Y. native who brought us Big Pun, “Lean Back” and “We Thuggin,’” his recent release “Instagram that H**” is not so far from other records he’s done. But again, Fat Joe is now viewed as one of rap’s pioneers and the man behind beloved hits from the 90’s that we turn way up when they (infrequently) get played on the radio. “Instagram that H**” which features current hitmakers Rick Ross and Three 6 Mafia’s Juicy J, seems like an attempt to hop on the latest social media trend as well as pack his record with artists that have more current sway with a younger audience. It’s not a bad song if you consider it in context with everything else that’s out. It just seems like a desperation move on Fat Joe’s part. Despite a big weight loss, he hasn’t parlayed his previous hits into anything that’s been relevant lately. At 41, Joe’s not that much older than Rick Ross or 2 Chainz (both 36). We just expect a little more from the guy who was once the hottest Puerto Rican artist outside of Jennifer Lopez.
We don’t want these guys to do what the kids do. We want them to try to elevate the art form for the adults that liked them in the past. Jay-Z is a prime example of how to smoothly navigate aging in hip-hop. He just does what he’s always done but doesn’t waste his time trying to follow the latest trends. Jay’s like an old playa who realizes that you don’t have run a bunch of game at women once you’re older – you can be just as smooth and waste less time by telling the truth.
LL and Fat Joe can look to another rap star for inspiration as well. Nas has enjoyed one of the longest periods of relevancy in hip-hop being consistent and putting lyrics first. Yes, Rick Ross guest stars on his new CD “Life’s Good”, but the song made sense for both artists. Destpite his 20-year career, unprecedented these days, Nas doesn’t have a TV show, he doesn’t have a clothing line or own his own label, yet somehow he earns a living (and a good one if his divorce settlement with ex-wife Kelis is any indication). More than that, Nas has retained the respect of his audience and his peers. It’s a tricky balancing art, but he’s found the formula. Maybe LL and Joe should get together, dig in their respective musical crates and figure out how to take the best of what they’ve done in the past and update it for the people that can still appreciate it.