In February 2000, TIME Magazine ran an article stating ‘Hip-Hop Is The Most Important Youth Culture On The Planet‘, but the inherent link between the youth, and a new and exciting genre of music go hand-in-hand. The best artists were young because the genre itself was young. Everyone was young! Each year saw new styles emerge, both from a production standpoint and the art of rapping too. If last year taught us anything about where the best emcees are operating, it’s in the 35-50-year-old bracket. Hip-hop is no longer a youth culture unless you believe it still needs to be, but my theory is that hip-hop is so vast and diverse now that it is just culture. As much as purists wish to retain its rawest form through regurgitated boom-bap stylings of thirty years previous, that stance effectively confirms this romanticized ideology of hip-hop as an old, long lost, or even dead culture. Run-DMC was trying to rap like Das EFX in 1993, not even a decade into their professional careers. Chuck D hid his age for years. Biggie and Tupac quickly amassed legendary catalogs before they died at 24 and 25, respectively. LL Cool J debuted at 15, while Nas and Rakim were in their late teens when they emerged as greats straight out the gate. The hungry young spitter, crafting articulate narratives were the streets’ documentation covering content in a manner years ahead of their actual ages. Of course, many that struggle early on in life are forced to grow up quick, and the fascination with youth is an inherent byproduct of an accelerated childhood.
Naturally, there was plenty of talent in the 1980s and 1990s that magnified the impact of a genre predominantly made up of young men and women. Other than a few exceptions (Juice Crew members, KRS-One) who are approaching their sixties, it should come as no surprise to see the artists slightly younger than this, now dominating discussions when it comes to where the best hip-hop is at. The hunger and desire from a period where music was still an investment for fans, combined with the improvements in technology allowing for global collaborations and easier access to production tools, ensures a continued increase in emcees developing some of their best material twenty years into their career. Unfairly labeled ‘dad-rap’ or ‘grown man rap’ to try and differentiate it from the more party-driven younger artists the industry prefers to push, it nonetheless earns its label when it comes to an emcee like North Carolina’s Supastition. Influenced by late 80s emcees like Big Daddy Kane, his earlier material from the 2000s was often defined by punchy, satisfying production from the likes of Jake One, Illmind and Marco Polo; which suited the verbal jousting that Supastition was attacking the microphone with. He wasn’t afraid to sprinkle more substantive songs into his albums, but after a brief hiatus in 2010-2012, he returned with a matured style that retained the head-nod aesthetic yet boasted enhanced messaging. Back in 2013, I slapped an 8/10 on “The Blackboard EP” and admired his self-awareness, then gave the same score to both “Honest Living” and “Gold Standard” which both remain recommended listens for any curious readers that have yet to check them.
Consistency is a strength of Supastition’s, and while he’ll be the first to admit he’s no Black Thought, it’s difficult to pick holes in his latest EP “Every Last Word” from a lyrical perspective. The six-track offering covers various themes, all delivered with self-reflective commentary on a career that perhaps didn’t pan out as expected. Unlike the master of affable reality rap, Masta Ace, Supastition has a similarly precise pen, but his approach is more confrontational. I can see younger listeners sensing a dismissive nature to modern hip-hop, which is arguably a running undertone throughout Supastition’s whole career, but it sits somewhere between the “grab you by the throat” delivery of Torae, and the genre-expanding material of Little Brother. The comparison to Little Brother’s magnificent return “May the Lord Watch” (2019) is ironic considering they used to open for Supastition in NC, but it’s an apt one. Personally, I don’t think Supastition is quite as charming as Phonte, nor are the ideas here as painfully true as a “Sittin’ Alone”. He also doesn’t have a Khrysis on the boards, instead opting to self-produce every track. After strong collaborations with Praise and Croup, production remains solid rather than spectacular, continuing to benefit from some rugged scratched hooks. Admittedly, it makes more sense that an emcee in his forties isn’t punching you in the face with pounding kicks and snares, although the snares do still slap pretty hard. But it’s the bars where this record shows its strengths, particularly as a thirty-six-year-old father of two – this record often spoke to me directly. It never blew me away, but there was a noticeable improvement in Supastition’s songwriting as each of these tracks felt distinct thematically. “Make It Home” covers a tale of road rage, mental health is discussed on “Cold Blood” and “Closure” sees him start to accept his position as a father ahead of an emcee. He also delivers some bluntly correct analogies of modern hip-hop with lines like “some fools sound like they’re reading from Griselda teleprompters”. Facts.
“Scatterbrained” is further proof of the wicked flow, although stylistically reminds me of his earlier material. Even though I agree with much of what Supastition is sharing, there are times when he’s his own worst enemy. Working 112, Total, and Bad Boy Records into a rhyme scheme feels like a reference you’d hear two decades ago – then bemoaning the fact “there’s no market for pouring your soul out to a bunch of forty-year-olds” on “Closure”. There are numerous references to twenty years ago, often tinged with a sense of bitterness as much as it is fond memories. It’s this continued interest in age and status that marks this EP out from previous releases, something highlighted by the record’s best song “Head Above Water”, where the beat captures that classic Supastition feel, and the hook makes it feel like the one song you’d hear on a full-length. There’s some neat alliteration and flows delivered at the start of each verse that is clear evidence of why Supastition can’t leave this rap shit alone.
It will be interesting to hear where Supastition goes from here, as he’s got a lot off of his chest over this dense, honest six-track EP. Frustration with how underground hip-hop is now populated by emcees churning out music every couple of months is an understandable criticism in the streaming era, yet there are times when “Every Last Word” holds on to the mantra of hip-hop being youth culture a bit too tightly, and can’t fully embrace what it means to be a middle-aged emcee in 2023. It’s to be expected because nobody really wants to get old, but Supastition is one of a growing number of emcees improving with age, and long may it continue.