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No Country for Old (Rap) Men: When Middle Aged Rappers Attack

To be washed, or not to be washed, that is the question.

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Depending on how you feel about rappers in their late forties/early fifties who aren’t married to Beyonce, the unveiling of new albums from MC Eiht, Kool G Rap and KRS-One is either the best thing since ‘The Wop’ or further reason to ignore any hip-hop not made by guys with colourful hair and leggings. I always approach these projects with caution, as it’s more important than ever not to let the weight of great expectations sully something which might have been otherwise enjoyable on its own merits.

Former Compton’s Most Wanted frontman MC Eiht’s Which Way Iz West was announced almost seven years ago, and is about to be released on DJ Premier’s Year Round Records label. Mean Joe Preem provides three beats and some scratches, with Brenk Sinatra handling the rest. The guest list is a solid line-up of experienced Class of ’94 LA rap types, plus the legendary Big Mike from the Convicts and the Geto Boys, who is back in action after serving some time for burning down a Rap-A-Lot recording studio (!?). Brenk is the real star of the show here, delivering a rich selection of tracks which combine classic West Coast sensibilities with modern techniques, best demonstrated on ‘Compton Zoo’ and ‘Gangsta, Gangsta’ (which can be most accurately described as how pre-The Chronic Compton rap would have sounded like if they’d be listening to Roy Ayers instead of Zapp).

Eiht himself never sounds particular enthused about the whole thing, although to be fair much of his vocal appeal has been tied to his detached delivery itself and it could be argued that he ran out of things to rap about once he and Quik mended their differences. Premier’s contributions are enjoyable enough, as he puts a slight L.A. twist on his usual sparse sound (‘4 Tha OG’z’ being the star of the trio), but it’s Brenk Sinatra’s finest moments which lift this from the level of merely adequate to *Larry David voice* pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Kool G Rap, who I consider to be the greatest MC in the history of rap music and who gave the likes of Nas and Big L a solid foundation to build from, hasn’t released a solo album since 2012 but stays dropping guest spots. For Return of the Don he’s made the wise decision to hand over musical duties to MoSS for the entire LP, which gives it a nice and consistent feel throughout in much the same way that G’s working with Sir Jinx gave Live and Let Die such a distinctive texture. What’s surprising is how heavily the songs lean on guest spots, with only two of the eleven tracks showcasing KGR minus any assists.

It’s unclear whether G Rap simply enjoys the spirit of healthy competition that sharing microphone time can often spark, as no one wants to let another dude get the better of them on their own album, or if it’s a more cynical technique to grab the attention of the fans of the respective cameo artists. I’ll hedge my bets here and assume it’s a little bit of both. The good news is that the mix of old and new blood has invigorated the Kool Genius of Rap somewhat, as he delivers some of his wittiest punchlines in years.

So the music is good and G is in fine form (especially for someone who’s been rapping professionally for over thirty years), but the excessive door list kills the momentum. Some of the guests hand in quality work, but it doesn’t take long before I resented them cock-blocking G Rap’s air time and just wanted to hear more of G and MoSS work their magic like on ‘Return of the Don’ and ‘Time’s Up.’ This is an album which can be rewarding for the G Rap faithful, but only if they’re patient enough to sit through the gatecrashers.

KRS-One hasn’t slowed down at all since he brought a new style of rhyming to the fore with 1987’s Criminal Minded, still managing to crank out a new album every couple years with his latest bunch of cult members/weed carriers. Either through choice or necessity, the quality of his beats over the past decade or so have been a major stumbling block for me, as are the almost universally bad guest features from whoever Kris has enlisted to carry his bags that particular month.

I struggled to make it through The World Is MIND for the exact reasons listed above, although I did manage to last until the end of ‘Out For Fame’ once I realised it was a remake of his 1995 song of the same name but with a new second verse and a different beat, which can be added to the quaint trend of rappers remaking their own songs in the hopes of cashing in on good old fashioned nostalgia. I don’t ever see a future where KRS-One will be bad at rapping, but it’s been so long since he’s been able to capture my imagination with a good song that it’s too much like hard work seeking out the bright spots. There’s also an unfortunate moment where he remembers fallen hip-hop greats on ‘Hip Hop Speaks From Heaven’ and mentions Beastie Boy King Ad-Rock instead of MCA. 

While none of these albums are essential, thanks to the magic of the internets you can just buy the good songs and forget about the rest, which means that I’ll never have to experience the buyer’s remorse I felt after dropping $20 on the Arabian Prince album the same day I copped The D.O.C.’s excellent No One Can Do It Better.

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