When it comes to the maturation of rappers, I have more faith that Rick Santorum and the pope will go half on my gay-wedding gift than that most emcees will age gracefully.
There are a few rappers who have done so—Queen Latifah and Ice Cube come to mind—but they don’t actively release rap albums anymore. Jay Z fancies himself more of a businessman than a musician nowadays, and even in the latter context, he still wants to be perceived as cool (not that there’s anything wrong with that). T.I. is a family man who still wants to rap like a bachelor … who lives in the trap. Rick Ross will be 40 next year, and his tales of drug dealing (fictional times, mind you) will feel really old in due time.
The men are far worse offenders than many of the ladies of hip-hop, but in earnest, Lil’ Kim’s aesthetic continues to have an identity crisis, Da Brat still dresses like it’s 1995 and I don’t know where Foxy Brown is. Do you?
Surprisingly, the man who’s become a solid example of how to age as a rapper in a way that feels both natural and fitting is Snoop Dogg. His most recent release, Bush, is more grown-up funk than mumbling hip-hop (see Young Thug and Fetty Wap).
On how the Pharrell-produced project was born, Snoop explains to New York Times writer Jon Caramanica, “There’s a void for that style of music. I think if rap never came out, I’d have been a R&B singer.”
The Atlantic’s Spencer Kornhaber disputes this, noting that such sounds have been “one of the biggest trends in pop in the past few years,” and going on to add, “Snoop’s not filling a need; he’s providing more of what’s recently proven to be a hot commodity.”
This is where the lens through which you view something matters. For starters, Snoop is not Robin Thicke or Daft Punk. He’s a 43-year-old black man named Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr. from Long Beach, Calif. A man who, for much of his career, has rocked perms and curls. In releasing Bush and embracing the “Uncle Snoop” moniker, Snoop is just fulfilling a destiny that many of us black folks meet after a certain age: the uncle or auntie stage of our lives.
With Bush, Snoop basically made a hip-hop Gap Band album. It’s the audio answer to linen pants and cookouts, something I might two-step to while asking for a fish sandwich and an extra slice of peach cobbler. It is glorious in that respect. Although Snoop could have rapped a lil’ bit more on the album, it’s 2015, and most of these rappers are singing off-key and spouting a bunch of gibberish anyway. In that respect, he fits right in.
Where he really differs from his younger counterparts in that he’s—gasp—actually decided to stop calling women out of their name. When asked if his attitude has changed, Snoop told Sky News, “Definitely, my attitude has changed towards women.”
He went on with this revealing statement: “I am more sensitive and more vulnerable writing-wise and accepting a woman for being a beautiful person, as opposed to me saying she is a bitch or a whore because that was how I was trained when I first started, so I have no regrets. I understood what a woman was and I started to write about and express that. Once I figured out there was room to grow and learn and to be a better person, then I incorporated that in everything I was doing. I don’t feel like you can be ashamed or mad about not knowing—if you don’t know, you don’t know.”
I don’t know if this epiphany happened nearly three seconds after his ridiculous mini-beef with Iggy Azalea, but I’m glad it happened, and I hope every “nephew” out there (read: anyone under the age of 35) takes his words to heart. This means you, misogynistic twit A$AP Rocky, and all like you.
Perhaps my standard for maturation is low, but I feel that realizing one’s past mistakes and making grown-folk music with confidence is an excellent start. After all, it could be worse: Just turn on the radio and listen to all those other uncles in the club, doing the same old two-step while singing the same songs with the same sad subject matter. Thank you for at least trying, Uncle Snoop.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.