Adult Rappers is an important think piece documentary because it deals with something that has not really been covered before, in part because it wasn’t exactly a reality, until now. Compared to other music genres, Rap and Hip-hop are still in their infancy. Although there are older rappers around from the founding and previous generations, the majority of them have stepped away from the microphone and the limelight and given way to the new scene.
Yes, your favorite rapper from the early 90’s might still be dropping fire mixtapes, but who is really listening? And that’s kind of the question posed by this film. Other genres have been around longer and because of that, have older artists in their scene. Rap doesn’t have that luxury, especially when coupled with how rap is packaged and sold. It is essentially a 35 and under job as far as being a household name. Sure there are a few exceptions, but that’s like hitting the jackpot in the lotto back to back. I got a chance to have a conversation with Pawl, the visionary who made the film, and Alaska (AKA Tim Baker), one of the featured rappers who is now a good friend and a valuable source. Enjoy.
Here’s the trailer for those of you who haven’t heard about this yet
LB: What prompted you to make this film?
PAWL: Honestly, you have the two people that were the genesis of the idea for this film, nice job, paralleled. Tim and I were talking about this idea a lot in the abstract at the time just before I started writing. We were both pondering our respective rap futures and pasts and those conversations about life, fatherhood and the likes definitely began to shape the concept for me. Also, you may have noticed, Tim is as sexy as the day is long. That dreamboat could sell me a bridge in Brooklyn. I made a film instead.
The title of the film came from an off-handed remark to a friend. I picked up a voicemail from someone inquiring about an ancient beat CD of mine and I said, “I have too many adult rappers in my life…”. Voila.
LB: Why do you think there’s such a stigma when it comes to being an older “rapper”?
PAWL: To me, hip hop as a genre doesn’t age well. Some artists evolve and some do not. Some move on to other things and some are just sort of stuck in a bit of time warp – just like the rest of us normal non-rapping humans…which is why I thought it was an interesting story to tell. We all have passions that we dream of pursuing full time, some of us follow those dreams and some of us don’t. Unfortunately, hip-hop and especially “rap” as an occupation means you’ve taken a leap of faith into a profession associated with youth and rebellion. Older rappers by definition are a bit of an oxymoron – until now. The genre is still so young we are seeing a real definitive rift for the first time between generations. There wasn’t the paradox of “the rap your Dad listened to” in the 80’s and 90’s. It’s pretty amazing to watch it all unfold.
TIM: I think the stigma is because of the way most older rappers have traditionally approached rap music. They pander to children. Which is never a good look. I think what will be interesting about this next generation, at least from the indie side, is that as artists they have already eschewed so much of what is considered the norm for rappers, so they may be able to effortlessly move from young rapper to old rapper, and their audience may follow along. I think Louis Logic said it best in the film when he said, and I am paraphrasing, “the reason there haven’t been old rappers before is because rap wasn’t around long enough for there to be old rappers’.
LB: I guess rap is almost like cartoons in the sense that The Simpsons have been on the air over 20 years, and sure they have an episode or two that deviates into some other material, but they have all essentially remained the same age.
LB: The movie opens with everyone recounting their initial memories with hip hop. Was this important to show the strong connection to their passion and drive to succeed?
PAWL: I thought it was important to establish a context. As I mentioned, we’re talking about a unique point on the historical timeline when it comes to hip-hop music. We needed to establish criteria somewhat for what an adult rapper is and where he/she comes from. We’re obviously featuring and speaking to a specific age group
TIM: I think it also helped show the people in the film as fans, you see them light up a bit when they talk about those memories. They were important to us, and probably were one of the major reasons we all chose this road.
LB: How much different would you say touring is for a 40-year-old versus a 20-year-old? Are the differences more due to responsibility or age?
PAWL: I leave this one to Tim. I hated touring. It wasn’t for me. I’m not built for it. Massive respect goes to the road dogs; independent to mega-star and everything in between. Touring. Is. Hard.
TIM: I only toured in my 30s, so I don’t really know if I can answer this based on the criteria outlined in the question :). On the real though, I think touring isn’t a natural way to live. I mean think about people who travel for business, how much of an interruption something like that is in your life. Now imagine that your business is traveling. It is just too much. You get old and you have your family, your home, your base, these things become way more important than a show. When you leave for months at a time you are losing all that, so you get to a point where you have to consider is it worth it. If people are pulling a few hundred thousand a year it probably is a fair trade off. I think eventually, the value of home becomes way more important than the value of being out there. You see it even with friends. You stop seeing friends as much because home is more important.
LB: The touring lifestyle is definitely not for everyone. I’ve purposely kept my personal responsibilities small and close relationships to a minimum so that I can tour with no issues. I think it gets harder the more attachments you have to a life outside of that.
LB: Alaska was featured in this movie twice, the second appearance credited as “Tim Baker”. It’s almost like he was two different people since he even has two segments at the end as well. Was this done on purpose?
PAWL: Yes and no. It was a happy accident but I think it makes sense – maybe after more than one viewing. Tim definitely changed over the course of filming and I think that evolution is palpable. I got his blessing to use both and I think it works. Ask him.
TIM: When we filmed the first interview I was coming out of a bad place. I was just starting to make strides in life outside of rap and by the time we filmed the second interview, I was in a much better place. I wasn’t really drinking anymore, I had lost like 70 lbs (I’ve since gained back about 35) and I was in a much better headspace. If the film was in the can I would have never pushed for it, but they were filming again in NYC, and I figured since I was friends with the director, I could use that proximity to my advantage. I thought it was hilarious that they used both versions of me.
LB: Do you feel the growing age and personal responsibilities form a hindrance when trying to connect to a younger technological audience?
PAWL: I don’t understand the question. I’m old and technology scares me. So does magic. So does Lil’ Yachty…
TIM: I don’t think the technology causes the rift. I think being 40-something does. I have nothing in common with a 25-year-old, let alone a 16-year-old and I really don’t give a fuck about them, not in a bad way, like I want them to be happy and succeed and shit, their feelings on shit has no bearing on me or my art.
LB: The rapper’s featured in this film all had varying degrees of success. How important was this to illustrate your points, if it was intentional?
PAWL: It was my intention to interview as many rappers as humanly possible. If I could, I’d still be doing these interviews because I find them fascinating. By way of that process of just interviewing anyone and everyone that said yes – you get a great cross section. The one criteria I held to, to illustrate my point, was no one here could be a household name (how many rappers are anyhow?). I wanted to tell the story of “working class rappers”. The myths and misconceptions of pursuing rap as a career was always top of mind.
LB: J-Live got a lot of face time, and arguably had one of the more tumultuous stories. Would it be fair to say he was almost a cautionary tale?
PAWL: It was J-Zone, and yes and no. Yes, I think his story is indeed tumultuous but it wasn’t my intent for it to be “the cautionary tale”. The timing just worked out that way. I first met Zone right before he released his book “Root for the Villain” so he was in a place where he was being completely honest about himself and his career and it just so happened we were making a film that paralleled many of the themes he explored in his book. We were there as he explored the evolution from aging rapper to musician and struggled with exactly what that meant. Timing is everything.
TIM: I thought J-Zone’s story was inspiring as fuck. It had dark moments, that were extra cringe-worthy because I had a lot of those same experiences, but he came out on the other side a better artist and from what I can tell, he seemed happy. I think it spoke to the power of hip-hop and embracing your passions.
LB: Ouch. First, my apologies to J-Zone. I actually had “Braggin’ Writes” by J-Live playing in the back when I was typing some of the questions… not even going correct it and pretend otherwise. Second, maybe cautionary was a poor word choice. I watched the whole documentary a number of times, most recently with my 15-year-old niece. She actually thought J-Zone and his story was the most entertaining part. She related to the honestly even though she’s never heard his music. But that was enough to make her curious. Also, I think he nailed it with the whole Peter Pan analogy. That can go levels.
LB: I heard a saying; “It’s not over until you quit” and that reinvigorated my love for music. What are your thoughts on that?
PAWL: I think that’s half true, honestly. Define “over”. You can always pursue your art, release music, stay productive, etc – but how long people will pay attention is something all together different. That’s the reality. Especially now. There is so much white noise out there.
TIM: I think that is an interesting saying, but I don’t even know if it’s over then, because once you put something out, chances are, you have inspired someone, so in that next group of artists, no matter how small your inspiration was, you get to keep going, and eventually they will inspire the next generation. Once you put it out there you are eternal. I think that is awesome.
LB: I heard this actually from a DJ named Ghastly. He was talking about how after three years of work and trying to get on with labels in L.A. everything fell apart and he was living on someone’s couch and had to move back home to AZ. He saved up money to move back to L.A., changed his lifestyle to be more focused on his goals and after another 4 years of hard work, finally started to see results. After the slightest pitfall, most people would quit and the dream would be over. Whatever work you put out, it would depend on what your actual reach was on whether or not it had any effect. There’s no way to know for sure. But I agree, if you keep working at a dream, and no one pays attention… the point gets muddy. I’d like to think I’d prefer to die chasing my dream, then to fold and live a cookie-cutter life. Assuming I’m not neglecting other aspects of my life to do so.
LB: What’s the main thing you want people to walk away with after seeing “Adult Rappers”?
PAWL: You may never quit, and you shouldn’t if it’s something you love; rap, writing, painting, knitting – whatever. Just be realistic about your expectations. I hope the takeaway for people is no matter what your passion – hard work is a prerequisite. Period. Hard work, a lotta love and a little luck. You need to be a triple threat. Talent helps too.
TIM: I want people to understand that once you take a chance, you have won. The second you go for it, you are a winner. I thought the stories were so inspiring. How many people find something they truly love, to the point that they are willing to risk everything to part take in it, create, inspire, see the world, make something, that with any luck, will move someone? I think because people are talking about their past, there is this tendency to see it as sad. I feel like if you were to do a follow-up interview with all of the artists and ask them if they are sad about it, not a single one of them would be, I don’t think there would be a single regret in the room. To me, that is fucking inspiring. You can always have a job, you only get a few chances in life to follow a dream, and most people balk at those chances. The people in Adult Rappers did not.
LB: Anything coming up you want people to be on the lookout for?
TIM: I have an album with PJ Katz coming out in 2017 on Pig Food Records and the next Words Hurt album “Soul Music for the Soulless” will be out in March.
LB: Thank you guys so much for taking the time out to talk about this.