Maybe it took you longer than everyone else to figure out how to barf rainbows on Snapchat. Maybe a youngster shot you a sideways look when you attempted to casually use “finna” in a sentence. Maybe you saw Finding Dory on its opening night and resented all the children crowding the theater who just don’t understand Disney-Pixar like you do. It’s inevitable: as time passes, you’re bound to have moments when you think to yourself, “Damn, when did I get so old?”
I had one of these existential crises at Mac Miller’s recent show in Vancouver. I was on the floor, waiting for the opening DJ when I turned around to view the crowd and saw absolutely no one I could relate to. I must have been the only adult Mac fan in the room. Brace-faced teens were getting kicked out for naively trying to smoke weed while the house lights were still on. Parental chaperones were vying to get in on their kids’ selfies and facing cruel, remorseless rejection. High schoolers assured each other that grinding isn’t considered cheating as long as both parties are in relationships. I felt completely detached from the major fan base of one of my long-time favorite rappers.
How did this happen, Mac? Your music used to be made for me. When you were rapping about how much you love high school, I was right there in high school with you. As you grew up, so did your music, and I grew up with it; now we’re in our twenties, and we’re navigating our monogamous adult relationships together with The Divine Feminine. So who are all these punk ass kids pretending they understand you like I do? And for God’s sakes, why are you selling your exclusive vinyl at Urban fucking Outfitters?
The truth is that, as a youth-driven culture, hip-hop is fundamentally defined by the current cohort of youngsters. When Ol’ Dirty Bastard hopped on the stage at the ‘98 GRAMMYs to boldly declare “Wu-Tang is for the children,” he was right. If rappers only targeted their aging, day-one fans, the entire hip-hop genre would slowly stagnate and decay like funk and jazz before it. Instead, it has replaced rock and roll as the counterculture movement of our era.
That truth goes down smooth when you’re young enough to think that Urban Outfitters is cool and that The Life of Pablo is an acceptable choice for a favorite Kanye album. For the old heads whom Lil Yachty loves to offend, for those who can’t bring themselves to share Chuck D’s open-arms welcome of mumble rap, and for me—just now finding out I’m no longer a kid—it’s a tough pill to swallow.
Years ago, I was chanting the anthemic “kill people, burn shit, fuck school” along with Tyler, The Creator, another artist whom I felt a connection with largely, in part, due to our similarity in age. Like Mac, Tyler and his music have matured, but his core fan base remains compromised of rebellious teens. Moreover, Tyler is now the inspiration for new acts, like Kevin Abstract.
I love Kevin Abstract, but the more I think about it, the more I realize I’m not in his target demographic. He’s a few years younger than me, just like Desiigner or Lil Yachty, and he makes music that’s true foremost to himself and his peers. If we want the future of hip-hop to be as vibrant as the past and the present, we should encourage the next generation of artists to evolve their sound however they see fit, even it that means leaving us adults out of the loop.
Relinquishing your grip on childhood isn’t easy. There’s no warning; all of a sudden, your Fruity Pebbles and Sunny D get replaced with All-Bran and black coffee, you’re late on filing your taxes, and the latest dumbass decision from the Trump administration actually affects you. Music is our link to the past: in the same way a whiff of your ex-girlfriend’s perfume can send your mind spiraling into nostalgia, so too can the melodic beats and rhymes of the rapper you grew up with. The fact that strangers aplenty are wearing that perfume, and that the teenagers of today are bumping your old jams, is one you’ve long been inadvertently denying.
This means two things: One, it’s time to hand over the reigns of creative direction to the new, young audience, just like older hip-hop fans once did for you. Two, it’s time to learn to share. The rapper you grew up with is all grown up now, just like you, and they’re working on raising the next generation.
Mac, Tyler, and their contemporaries still make music true to themselves first, and it’s selfish to say that a high schooler can’t connect with my favorite artists just because I want to believe the current youth aren’t as deserving as I was. After all, I wasn’t any different: Kid Cudi was a decade older than me when Man on the Moon: The End of Day made its impression on my soul.
Half a decade from now, if they’re lucky, Kevin Abstract and Lil Yachty will still be drawing sixteen-year-olds to their concerts in droves. Fans born in 2000 will be waiting in line for WALL-E 2, complaining that 2020s teens don’t “get” Lil Boat like they do, and have their first of many existential crises.
I can’t wait.