"There's a lot of prejudice in the business and people think a lot of it is black and white, but a lot of it is young and old."
-Suge Knight, Welcome To Death Row, 2001
Mr. Knight was talking about hip hop, behind the scenes, at the time, and while that sentiment isn't as evident today, it does play a role in hip hop (and some would say it's always been there). I've often heard that when it comes to hip hop and its talent, it's a "young man/woman's game." I've never agreed with that line of thinking, however, I will agree with two points, and one of them is pretty obvious. 1) Nas was 21 when he released "Illmatic," and when you think of how inspired and hungry he was in 1994, his age did play a part of that more than we think. 2) It's always good to have a new wave of talent (often referred to as "a new generation") bringing in a fresh perspective and new ideas, along with a good head on their shoulders, a positive outlook, and the skills/talent to back it up. And when it comes to #2, you know I want to expand on that one a little, maybe a lot.
Over the last several years, there have been lots of younger artists who have came through, and excluding the talented MCs who are considered "underground," the majority of them were some of the worst artists you could imagine, and a lot of them received seemingly tons of attention in the mainstream as you would expect. Simply put, the notion that it's a "young man/woman's game" is laughable at best. The way I see it, in any form of work, especially entertainment, as long as you're able to successfully perform and do the absolute best that you can, age should not be a factor. In some cases, some artists tend to get better with age. Masta Ace, my #6 favorite MC of all time and still one of the most underrated MCs ever, turns 48 this year. Furthermore, his albums from "Take A Look Around" to "Sittin' On Chrome" were all dope, but ever since 2001's excellent "Disposable Arts," he has consistently released more quality albums and has not lost one step. That's what I call extreme talent, as well as dedication to your craft (O.C. is another MC that comes to mind as someone who has gotten better with age). As you get older, evolution is important and in most respects you don't want to hear artists rapping about the same things in their 40s that they were rapping about in their 20s, so that I understand completely. I also realize that the majority of the artists I grew up listening to are either in the mid-late 40s or early 50s, and if said artists still want to release albums, tour, etc, I'm all for it and I'm sure the talent and drive would remain. In addition, no one wants to support lukewarm, uninspired material, and at some point, your mind and body would tell you when it's time to hang it up.
Overall, age shouldn't matter when it comes to hip hop. Quick question, would Kendrick Lamar still receive the acclaim he has if he was 37 instead of 27? I think so. Nas is 41, but with the way he sounds and looks today, you'd think he was still 21. Currently, this genre cannot be without its living legends, and we're talking about those who have been in the game for 15-20 years plus, and I shudder to think how things would really be without their presence. It's not something hip hop is ready for. It's all about the talent, not how old you are.