When Blue Ivy Carter stormed the charts with her appearance on her father Jay-Z’s decent but forgettable song Glory, she became the youngest person to ever appear on the Billboard charts. This record will almost certainly never be broken, lest Lady Gaga places a microphone right next to her vagina while she gives birth and releases it as a single. But what baby Carter has already attained is a placement in hip-hop that is both unprecedented and probably important. And while I feel a little weird writing about the iconography of somebody who isn’t yet a month old, I’m going to.
Jay-Z has been the figurehead of popular hip-hop for about a decade now, probably since 2001’s The Blueprint, when I.Z.Z.O. was pretty much the only song hip-hop radio would play. There have been others who have been more popular at times (50 Cent, Ja Rule, possibly T.I., etc.), but the only person who comes close to the same kind of dominance is Kanye West, and he is almost more of a pop star at this point anyway. If Jay-Z put out an album of him farting over Neptunes beats tomorrow, it would be the number one album on the charts. He still has the ability to make colossal (albeit mediocre) hits like Empire State of Mind, and I assume the album he has allegedly been working on recently will have another huge hit on it. But what will make that album interesting is that Jay-Z is now forty-plus, with a wife and kid, and remains the most popular non-Kanye figure in hip-hop.
Hip-hop has never had a star that has been allowed to grow old in the spotlight, and that’s precisely what Jay-Z is doing. (Jay-Z’s brief retirement was partially a reaction to the idea that middle-aged people can’t rap.) He’s been called hip-hop’s Bob Dylan, or perhaps Bruce Springsteen, and now he kind of might be.
I assume Jay-Z will continue rapping for decades, and I assume not everything he releases will be good. Perhaps he will fall into the trap many other aging artists do and lose their hunger for their art in exchange for changing diapers, or perhaps he will release an album out of nowhere that makes critics shit their pants despite being mediocre (see: Modern Times). But whatever Jay-Z does next will be truly new: he will be a living legend in a comparatively young genre, and he will be afforded the luxury to rap about aging in a position that people might actually care about. Hip-hop is a genre desperately in need of maturity on a wide scope, and despite her youth, Blue Ivy Carter might be the catalyst behind that actually happening. The music could suck, and Jay-Z will continue to use his tried and true album formula until they stop selling, but on each of those albums will be something new. Not necessarily saccharine tracks like Will Smith’s Just the Two of Us, but a man with daddy issues, reflecting on correcting those mistakes himself, in a genre woefully lacking in father figures.
Hip-hop will always be materialistic and arrogant, as it is a reflection of the country in which it was created, but it could desperately use an infusion of genuine reflection and emotion. And I hope it allows itself to grow up alongside Blue Ivy Carter.