Music

When They're 65...

What will some of today's most well-known hip-hop artists be doing in 2035? Maybe they won't be running the music world, but they'll probably be doing something beyond applying Fixodent to their grills.

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.

Kanye West

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.

50 Cent

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.

Nas

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.

Common

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.

Mos Def

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).

Talib Kweli

Talib Kweli

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."

Lil' Wayne

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.

The Roots

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.

Soulja Boy

Soulja Boy

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."

Dr. Dre

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...

Eminem

...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.

Snoop Dogg

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.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta



19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller



18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr


17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr



16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

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There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

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