If you have read any of my previous articles, you know that I was once in a Christian Hip Hop group some years ago. Prior to that, I had been involved in secular Hip Hop in one form or another since my teenage years. I was in my early to mid-thirties when my group made the decision to switch from secular rap to Christian Hip Hop. We hit the studio with a renewed sense of purpose and cranked out what we thought was the best material we had written at that time. Lyrically and sonically, we felt that we had come into our own and we were so excited to let the world hear how God had changed our lives.
I grabbed a box of CDs and excitedly headed to my home church on Sunday morning. The first person I ran into was the church’s youth pastor, an older gentleman who had actually been a Christian rapper himself back in the late 80’s-early 90’s era. I gave him a copy of our CD, asked him if he could listen to it, and give me his honest opinion. He looked at the CD, nodded at me with a smile, and said, “I’ll check it out.”
The following week, I caught up with him after church and asked him what he thought. He said, “The music is really good, man, but you guys are too old. You won’t be relevant to young people. You probably need to pass this material on to some younger guys…” He continued, but I didn’t hear anything past his “…you guys are too old…” comment.
I was completely devastated! Too old? Was he serious? He finished his diatribe and I quickly made my exit. The more I thought about what he said, the angrier I became. I told the guys in my group and we all came to the conclusion that dude was just a hater. Who was he to tell us we were too old to do Christian Hip Hop?
A lot of time has passed since that uncomfortable conversation with the youth pastor, and now, when I think about that exchange, I don’t get angry anymore. As a matter of fact, I can understand why he responded the way he did. Hip Hop has always had the perception of being a young man’s game. However, with guys like Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg rapping well into their forties, that line has become somewhat blurred. I was also under the impression that age was definitely not a factor even more so in Christian Hip Hop because it was all about the message, not whether or not the artist is relevant to young people.
With that being said, we moved forward and, even in our so-called “old” age, we were still able to sell some CDs, get paying gigs, and achieved a modicum of success with our music. However, I have to admit, I did reach a point where the youth pastor’s words caught up with me. I remember it like it was yesterday. I noticed that I was developing a routine before every gig that involved dying the hair on my head as well as my facial hair black. Being onstage in front of youth groups with gray hairs sticking out of my head or my goatee was not a good look, so it made perfect sense to me at the time. However, one day, as I was going through this particular routine that I had done numerous times before, I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror with black dye on my head and chin and wondered aloud to myself, “What am I doing?”
I also heard the words of one of my uncles who told me his philosophy on getting older. He said that at some point, everyone has to take a step up on the ladder of maturity. Grandparents pass away, their kids become grandparents, and those grandparents’ kids become parents, and so on.
However, according to my uncle, if folks refuse to move up to the next level and decide to stay on one rung of the ladder longer than their predetermined time, they are keeping those who are following behind them from moving up the ladder themselves.
I had to ask myself if I was guilty of this action. I was approaching forty, still rapping, and hiding my gray hair. Plus, I felt like if I stayed any longer, I risked becoming irrelevant with the same group of folks we were trying to reach in the first place. The last thing I wanted to experience was the typical “Look at the old man trying to act like he young” look from an audience of teenagers. I prayed about it, made peace with my ego, and I came to the conclusion that maybe it was time for me to hang my microphone up.
Strangely enough, walking away wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. I have other skills, writing for example, that I can utilize to do the same thing I was doing onstage with a microphone in my hand. If writing isn’t an option, then there are many other roles that need to be filled by those who have experienced the ups and downs of the music business and can pass on a wealth of knowledge to the young rappers who are just now entering the industry. Graphic designers, managers, producers, songwriters, publishers, public relations, and mentors are just a few of the numerous positions that this industry, particularly Christian Hip Hop, really need.
Now, I know one could ask the question, “Well, who are you to decide when it’s time for someone to give up the microphone?” Well, honestly, it’s not up to me to make that decision for anyone else but me. Every rapper in this business will reach their own crossroads at some point and will have to decide if he or she should continue on or not.
Every circumstance is different; however, if one decides that it’s time to step up to the next rung on the ladder, I am here to say that it is possible to move on to a fulfilling role in this industry that we love so much and still make a meaningful impact.