Middle-aged men are running the game in 2020

It’d be amiss to ignore the fact that 2020 is, in short summary, a complete oddity of a year in so many ways. The music industry and hip hop in particular is no exception to the endless string of unpredictable realities 2020 has fed us in a number of ways - but the most obvious change in the game this year isn’t one many were predicting.

Middle-aged rappers are dominating the game this year. And that has very little to do with what one would typically assume - that it must be a Jay-Z, Eminem, Dr. Dre drop-type year.

From the individual and collaborative domination of Griselda - Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine, Westside Gunn and Boldy James - to the almost mythical dropping of Jay Electronica’s debut album and Freddie Gibbs’ Alfredo, some of the best and highest charting hip hop albums of this year seem almost misplaced due to less pop appeal from the grown men concocting them.

As Jay Electronica got an assist from Jay-Z on A Written Testimony, some of these middle-agers are a bit more expected to see on the charts as Lil Wayne’s Funeral and the Carter V deluxe come to mind.

What makes this year an oddity, has been the success of rappers you’d never expect to gain the popularity they have. Griselda has been in the game a long time and gaining steady recognition for the past few years, but 2020 has been their undeniable peak thus far, adding Boldy James to the crew and seeing nine different projects drop between the group of four.

As Freddie Gibbs has slowly garnered more and more following, it’s hard to spin 2020 as anything other than his career peak at least celebrity-wise, after dropping a collab album with Alchemist and dropping a feature alongside Big Sean, which was a bit unexpected.

What proves as even more of a rarity is the success of albums released by heavyweights of the past such as Black Thought, Busta Rhymes, Common and Nas. These artists dropping a top album in the early 2000s would make perfect sense, but twenty years later seeing Busta Rhymes match Anderson .Paak, Nas with Lil Durk and Black Thought with Schoolboy Q feels like it should be impossible.

This alone speaks to the longevity of these artists not only in their music but in their talent, being able to produce top-tier quality work at 40-plus years old. There’s also the sad reality that the current heavyweights have been relatively absent for some time, as the world awaits Kendrick, Cole and Drake drops in the upcoming year.

The most confusing part of this all is the number of older artists still making strides in 2020 - of course it makes sense for someone like Jay-Z to garner some attention and the aforementioned heavyweights will always have some following as long as they’re around - but for there to be this many veterans lining charts from top to bottom there has to be an explanation.

It may very well be possible that a lack of a party scene resulting from the pandemic is leading to a growing demand for lyricism and innovation as opposed to the populace’s need for simple bangers to party to - but whether or not this increased popularity for older artists is due to COVID-19 or not, middle-aged artists are absolutely dominating the game at the moment and the longer the trend continues the more standard it may become.

Written by Thomas Herron