In early April, the New York Times reported that Jay-Z was leaving Def Jam Records to sign a monumental $150 million deal with the concert promoter Live Nation, one which would encompass his tours, records, and endorsements. Coming on the heels of similar deals with music giants U2 and Madonna, the contract represented a major shift within the industry. Record labels might not be dead, but with album sales declining and the biggest artists looking in other directions for guaranteed revenue, the future’s not looking too great, either.
The Times piece quotes Jay-Z as saying that he plans to change his promotional strategy, relying more on touring and less on radio to showcase new music—“like an indie band”, he said. While I wonder how well this plan might work in actuality—most mainstream rap fans I know don’t go to too many concerts—Jay clearly thinks it will work. After all, as he says, he’s “turned into the Rolling Stones of hip-hop”, meaning, presumably, that, like the never-say-die rock band, he’ll still be selling out stadiums when he’s 65.
Hip-hop has traditionally been a young man’s game (something that became painfully clear to me as I watched an over-the-hill Sugarhill Gang perform in a mostly empty student-center events hall in college), though Jay-Z has done his part to redefine that, as he’s still arguably the genre’s biggest star at 38. It’s hard to imagine that he’ll be able to maintain that high level of popularity and relevance a few decades from now (or if he’ll even have the desire to, given the fact that he’s retired once already). But it’s not impossible that we could be buying tickets to see the wrinkled mogul—along with a still-up-and-coming (but mostly arthritic) Memphis Bleek—in 2035.
And if Jay-Z’s still performing then, some of his peers might still be around, too. Maybe they won’t be ruling the music world, but they’ll probably be doing something beyond just applying Fixodent to their grills. So what will some of today’s most well-known hip-hop artists be doing in 2035? I looked into my crystal ball to find out.
After running out of school-related album titles somewhere around 2016 (he didn’t defend his Dissertation particularly well), Kanye disappeared from the spotlight as suddenly as he’d entered it, causing fans to speculate that he had finally taken his rightful place in heaven as Rolling Stone had predicted years prior. (In truth, ‘Ye was simply working as a producer behind the scenes, under the Google-confusing pseudonym Kayne West). However, after hearing the rumors, he couldn’t resist a comeback, with a “Jesus Walks” tour in 2030. The move was roundly panned by critics, which of course encouraged the Recording Academy to nominate the accompanying live album for a Grammy. It didn’t win. Since being banned from Los Angeles due to his antics at the show, West has been difficult to locate.
Things Curtis Jackson has claimed he would quit since 2025: rapping, mumbling, Vitamin Water, rapping, acting, wearing tank tops, waiting in long lines for brunch, parenting, rapping (for real this time), spicy food.
You wouldn’t think an album title could get much more controversial than Nas’s 2008 release, but the always resourceful rapper proved everyone wrong over the last couple decades. We can’t print any of the words he used (even thinking about them is probably a thought crime), but let’s just put it this way—not only did Wal-Mart refuse to stock his items, they had to immediately burn the press releases stating their intention to do so. Still, Nas kept churning out albums until 2028 (some of them almost as bad as Nastradamus), when he finally retired, in part because of a near-fatal ether addiction.
Though he no longer has to defend his status as a legitimate actor, as he felt he did when I interviewed him back in 2007, he still has a chip on his shoulder about his talents. Earlier in his career, this led him to take on some pretty challenging roles—including an ill-fated turn as Jeremy Reed in a 2015 remake of Powder. Still, he can afford the occasional flop, just as he can afford to sink money into passion projects like last year’s silent film, Diary of a Sweater Vest. Well, as long as Serena approves.
Grizzled policeman, grizzled inmate, grizzled patient sharing a hospital room with Jack Nicholson—there’s no film role formerly filled by Morgan Freeman that Mos Def won’t take. The multiple Oscar-winning actor does have a troubling penchant for reciting his voiceovers in rhyme, but as long as white people still like him, his career knows no bounds (though privately, some wonder if he’ll ever surpass his groundbreaking performance in Brown Sugar).
Take it from Kevin Long, Mr. Kweli’s former roommate at the Shady Pines Rest Home in Brooklyn. “It was cute the first day he moved in, when he said his gout made his joints feel like burnt roaches. I thought hey, this guy’s got a sense of humor. But he just didn’t quit—the food was ‘as tasteless as a Nazi joke at shul’, the bingo games were ‘fixed like young puppies’. When he started telling me my granddaughter’s skin was the inspiration for cocoa butter, I had to put in for a transfer.”
Weezy (it’s more than a nickname now, as the mixtape king suffers from chronic emphysema) has enjoyed a fruitful career in endorsements, much to the surprise of those who ridiculed his first ad for Strapped Condoms. From his legendary Mentos spot (in which he is on the receiving end of a particularly violent Heimlich maneuver) to the graphic locker-room campaign for tough-actin’ Tinactin, it looks like the often-rumored-to-be-gay rapper has had the last laugh.
With the group’s albums becoming increasingly political over the past several years, it should come as no surprise that one of its members would turn toward a career in public service. Now a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Senator Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson (D-PA) has his eyes set on the presidency. Though the red-white-and-blue afro picks his supporters handed out at the Iowa caucuses gave him an early advantage, his opponent has repeatedly questioned his ability to respond to national emergencies, given that he’s usually still performing at three a.m. Thompson’s relationship with the opinionated (and online-ordained) Reverend Black Thought hasn’t exactly helped matters, either.
Somewhere on the streets of Atlanta, you might come across a babbling middle-aged man. Stop for a moment and listen to him. In between his ramblings about Robocop and “cocking on your bitch”, he has something important to say. Lean in close, making sure not to touch him. You will hear his wisdom: “Save your money.”
Forgot about Dre? No, he wouldn’t let you. Now a celebrated horror-film director (in a nod to his Long Beach past, each of his movies contains a scene in which a well-endowed young lady gets her bikini top pulled off at a volleyball game—invariably, she dies soon after), Dre is still hard at work on what will be his final album, Detox. Anyone who questions him about its continually delayed release is quickly reminded not to disrespect the D.R.E.. After all, this is the guy who made Eminem’s career…
...which doesn’t mean quite as much as it once did, as Em has now reached the final leg of his Elvis-esque career. Now a robust 300 pounds (instead of fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, he appears to favor Arby’s), the former king of the hip-hop world spends his days secluded in his version of Graceland: a trailer park-like kingdom situated just outside Detroit. Aging men in wifebeaters still occasionally journey to its gates, but only the surviving members of his trusted D-12 crew are allowed entrance. In a related note, his daughter Hailie is now a high-powered corporate lawyer. Go figure.
Dre’s other partner-in-crime has fared much better. He’s continued to capitalize on his widespread popular appeal with little regard for keeping his street cred intact. He now has an entire television channel—Snoopin’ on Snoop—dedicated solely to his endeavors, covering everything from recent episodes of Grandfather ‘Hood to commercials for Snoop-related products (pimped-out Segways are my favorite) to the popular Izzle Hour, which compiles every ironic reference to the rapper’s revolutionary suffix ever made on VH1. What makes his continued success most impressive is that, thanks to the legalization of marijuana in 2018, Snoop’s been doing everything with only three-quarters of a lung.
OK, so not everyone appears to have as bright a future as Jay-Z sees for himself (we might want to wait a few more years before deciding who really belongs on Mount Rapmore), but really, why would we need more than the greatest rapper alive—I mean, unless we were trying to sell tickets to the Glastonbury Festival. Honestly, if Jigga can be entertaining enough at 65 to keep Brooklyn Nets fans entertained during halftime, I think we’ll all be pretty darn impressed. We can only hope Scorsese’s still around to document the achievement.
// Notes from the Road
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