In some parts of Africa, young people respect their elders by giving up their seat. Some Asians convey their respect by cooking for their elders. Jiukiukwe Indians address their elderly with a special set of words. Hip-hop may be the only culture that still struggles to demonstrate respect for their elders. In fact, rap music celebrates youth almost to the exclusion of middle-aged rappers.
Part of the explanation for this is that the genre itself is young. There's no reference point on how to treat older rappers. The position of aging rappers is undefined. Rap fans seem to be making up the rules as they go. No, rock isn't a good reference point because not all rock fans are happy to see a fragile Steve Tyler still trying to do the "Beat It" spin at 65.
Still, it's mind-boggling that people often dismiss middle-aged rappers as old heads with nothing new to offer, insisting that they need to give it up. Since when did age become the main determinant for talent? I didn't get that memo. Sure, there are some veteran rappers that are better off bagging grocery than trying to shake a few donks in the club, but that's a handful compared to the plethora of able vets keeping hip-hop relevant.
About 90% of today's top hip-hop acts are well over 30. If we successfully force those guys out of the game, who exactly are the exciting young MCs that will carry the torch? See if you name 5 rappers in their 20s that can match or exceed the talent and success of Nas, Eminem, Mos Def, Rakim, Ghostface, or Jay-Z? How many 20+ producers can hang with RZA, and Dr. Dre, all of whom are 35 and above?
In the words of Jay-Z, everyone has a birthday. Just as hip-hop artists are getting up in age, hip-hop listeners are also growing up. Given the room, older rappers are in a better position to cater to their more mature fan base than the Soulja Boys and the Bow Wows of the world. Those guys still have a role to play. The point is that there should be room for everyone to showcase their skills to the best of their ability.
Respect should be determined by the artistic and social value of one's abilities, not age. If Jay-Z and Nas are still wrecking mics in their 50s, I'll gladly buy their albums. After all, no one seems to mind that Bob Dylan has more albums than U.S. has presidents.