“Rappers get old. Their music stays the same age.” With this simple observation in mind, Paul Iaanacchino Jr. ventured out into that nebulous milieu we call the rap world and emerged with Adult Rappers, an upcoming documentary about the rappers who’ve come face to face with the contradictions and difficulties that emerge when rap and adulthood collide. Taking time away from his busy schedule and newborn infant, Paul sat down with us to discuss the documentary’s origins and what he has learned during its production.
It all started as a joke. Though Paul (formerly known as dj Pawl) departed from the group Hangar 18 fairly early in his rap career, he never severed his connections with the people he met while in the game. Consequently, he would occasionally receive phone calls regarding his former peers’ ongoing experiences in the rap world; many of these phone calls contained grievances. As the phone calls began to increase, Paul eventually lamented, “I have too many adult rappers in my life.”
Most rap fans could probably make a similar assertion. After all, most rappers are adults (at least in the legal sense) and there are arguably more rappers now than there have ever been (Thanks, internet?). But when Paul made that statement, he wasn’t simply talking about age. He was talking about the rappers who are struggling to address the ever-increasing responsibilities that come with age – children, relationships, bills, debts – and juggling that alongside the youthful culture that these aging rappers depend on for work.
For Paul, these “working-class rappers” offer an intriguing look into the ethos of rap and its contemporary condition. While rap is not uniquely youthful – other genres, notably rock and pop are just as youth-driven – the combination of rap’s emphasis on doing-it-yourself and the relative ease with which things can get done (“All I need is one mic” – Nas) make rap a wonderfully accessible hobby and a wondrously terrible job. The precariousness of being a full-time rapper is only heightened for adults because unlike their younger peers, they rap more because they have to than because they want to. As rapper J-Zone puts it in the actual documentary, “When your hobby becomes your job, you need a new hobby.” As Paul hopes to show us, many of these adult rappers don’t have time to find new jobs. They have decided to remain on what music journalist Jeff Weiss calls the “treadmill” of rap and continue forth, at the great risk of falling behind or worse, falling off.
Not all of Paul’s interviewees are engaged in this mad dash. Some have been able to step off of the treadmill and find a living beyond the beats and rhymes. I try to push Paul to highlight the patterns of these “escape artists” – Did they all have kids? Were they from a certain place? Were they well-paid? – but Paul only sees particularities, not trends. Regardless, their stories are still worth hearing. As more and more rappers enter the game via internet connections, the opportunities to make money from rapping will only further diminish. Accordingly, learning how or when to step away is a lesson every aspiring rapper could use, even if there’s no guaranteed formula.
Adult Rappers is currently in post-production, but Paul assures me that it will be in circulation by festival season. The film is definitely something to keep on your radar. And even beyond the fall, Paul says we should look out for Senior Rappers and Geriatric Rappers sometime in the distant future. It’s hard to imagine rap getting that old, but with all this new talent filling up our hard drives, it better.