Andre 3000’s recent pivot to wordless New Age jams has sparked discussion amongst rap fans and rappers alike about aging in hip-hop, and the value of older perspectives in an industry that’s all too often perceived as a young person’s game. In a GQ profile ahead of his instrumental record New Blue Sun, Andre explained that rapping has increasingly felt “inauthentic” as he approaches 50 — a statement that a range of middle-aged rappers, from Open Mike Eagle to Lil Wayne, expressed disappointment about. Andre’s feelings are completely valid in regards to his own career; if you have no motivation to write, there’s no point in saying something just for the sake of saying something. But when applied as a standard to rapping at large, it reinforces the limiting perception that rapping is a fundamentally childish thing, a phase to grow out of, rather than a valid form of lyrical expression.
If there’s anyone who in hip-hop today who knows about aging like a fine wine, it’s budding lifestyle impresario E-40, who has taken some time off from his numerous business ventures to drop Rule of Thumb: Rule 1, his first full-length project since 2019’s Practice Makes Paper and his 27th solo album overall (alongside countless EPs and collaborative releases). Rule of Thumb is filled with smooth jams befitting of E-40’s age, like the Cheryl Lynn-sampling “Show Me How To Do It,” but he remains a nimble trickster who delights in throwing his listeners for a loop.
“Off Dat Mob” is a perfect example of how Earl Stevens has maintained his energy with the passing of the years. His flow is unhinged and out-of-pocket, not in spite of his age but because of it, as he’s maintained his credibility for long enough to take his audience to weird and wacky places. The pounding beat is courtesy of hyphy workhorse RobLo, a former collaborator of fallen Bay Area legends like The Jacka and Mac Dre, but its ghostly vocal chop recalls the layered and borderline experimental compositions crafted by production duo Friendzone for cloud rap pioneers Main Attrakionz. 40 yells boisterously on the hook, while finding increasingly whimsical ways to celebrate his success: “Colored weed, Avatar / Animated like Pixar.” Even at 56, E-40 is still finding new words to say and new ways to say them, without talking about colonoscopies — but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.