The undisputed queen of salsa, Cuban diva Celia Cruz remained current throughout her 50+year career, winning awards and cranking out hits right up until her death in 2003. Recorded only a year prior, “La negra tiene tumbao” redefines the term “late-period,” as a seventy-seven year old Celia, in various wigs and sequined outfits, rides a reggaeton-influenced rhythm with the help of a couple of dreadlocked, Carribean rastas. Oh, and did I mention the full frontal nudity (starts at 2:40?) Talk about a hip old broad. The best part of it all is that Celia seems to be having the time of her life. She truly doesn’t seem to care about looking ridiculous or “selling out,” because, let’s face it, when you’re that popular at seventy-seven, you get a pass to do whatever the fuck you want. Which makes me wonder: Is this what the future holds for today’s (and yesterday’s) rappers? Can we look forward to an eighty-year old Ghostface struggling to support the massive gold eagle perched on his wrinkled arm? I sure hope so, but aging rappers are definitely gonna have it harder than their counterparts in virtually any other genre.
First there’s the question of content; once you hit sixty (and I’m being generous here) you really can’t continue trading in coke-boasts and threats of physical violence. Either you have to start talking about everything in the past tense, or, like Celia in the above song, tell your stories in the third person, creating younger characters who do the the things you once claimed to do yourself. Or, I suppose, you could talk about your current reality (eg. medicare, “technology these days,” and “those meddling kids” next door. Sounds like a hit!) Of course, even less likely than an emcee continuing to record well into his golden years (I think that’s inevitable, for better or for worse) is the prospect of any rapper maintaining the popularity (and profitability) of someone like Celia Cruz a full fifty years after his debut. Jay-Z probably has the greatest chance, although if his subject matter gets any more “mature” than it already has, I can’t imagine the kids will keep listening; he’s already this close to making an album about his stock portfolio.
Anyway, I guess we’ll have to wait and see. All I know is that if I live to see a seventy-five-year-old Kurupt ice-grilling and mumbling that “bitches ain’t shit,” I’ll die a very, very happy man.