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Is rap retirement possible? The reality of rap for the bottom 95%

Bansky Gonzalez

 // Mar 21, 2018

XXL // XXL

Friday morning, via Twitter, Lloyd Banks seemingly retired from rap. He spoke of how he gave his life to music for 25 years, but that it was time to step away. “I fell in love with Hip Hop over 25 years ago,” he wrote in a tweet. “It was that thing I turned to during good times and bad. .just wanna say thank you to the artist B4 me that inspired me..and send my appreciation to everyone that supported me till this day THANK YOU!!”

However, after some goading from 50 Cent, Banks denied that he was retiring—but clearly he was at least going through a reflective moment.

The fact that Banks quickly decided to laugh off—or rather, meme off—the notion of retirement, further cements the stigma behind the act. In rap, retirement is akin to falling off, not a musician simply deciding they’ve fulfilled their dreams, provided all of the service they could, and have decided to walk off into the sunset. Lil Wayne once famously declared on his legendary mixtape Dedication 2, “You retire out when you die out,” but even he once retired—on Twitter, no less—when crushed with the weight of the industry. Just like Banks, he quickly walked back on his announcement, and hopped right back into the studio to continue his career.

Wayne and Banks’ momentary retirements were oddly similar. They both seemed to be the result of pent-up frustration with the industry as a whole, and the perception of them in their careers. “Crazy part about this journey is you can never satisfy everybody,” Banks said in another series of reflective tweets back in December. He clearly was privy to the many complaints levied to him throughout his career, and seemed to be frustrated by the never-ending series of gripes.

“They said I used too many punchlines..I focused on my word play..now they want punches again,” he noted before continuing on in another tweet with even more criticisms he faced. At the very least, he’d become troubled by the many expectations of him, his music and his career. Things were weighing on Banks, and though that series of tweets may not have been connected to his “retirement” last week, they still provide a fascinating look into the psyche of a rapper who exists outside of the upper five-percent of the genre. Outside of that arena-filling, platinum-coated Kendrick Lamar/Drake/JAY-Z tier of rappers who release music and tour the world at their leisure, a long career as a working artist makes for a trying profession, and one that could weigh down even the best of men and women.

Banks' faux retirement brings about a fascinating topic, about whether or not rappers can actually retire, especially the 95-percent who don't reside in the most elite tier of popularity, commercial viability and success. Banks has long been a respected MC, but for nearly a decade has been relegated to releasing free music and performing at smaller venues.

Take a gander into his Twitter mentions or Instagram comments and see that he’s garnered his own dedicated mass of fans. Still, Banks hasn’t sold an album in nearly a decade, and has released more than five times as many free mixtapes as he has retail albums. He’s not quite a nostalgia act, but Banks is hardly an A-lister. His career exists in an odd space, one where retirement never really seemed like an actual viable option. To put it simply, rap was a job for him, a real job he had to grind to make successful, so retirement in the truest sense might not have even been possible for him unless he saved and invested his G-Unit coins incredibly successfully.

In the past, rap retirements have been fleeting, and there are varying degrees of success to those who give it a shot. Former stars like LL Cool J and Ice Cube have turned to greener pastures in Hollywood for life after rap, while other former retirees like The Game and Lupe Fiasco have used the threat of retirement as little more than album promotion. Ma$e retired, but returned when the opportunity arose. Logic announced his pending retirement, just to sign another deal with Def Jam. Childish Gambino seemingly threatens retirement every time he’s interviewed. Even JAY-Z once hung the mic up, just to came right back. And finally, there are plenty of rappers like Bow Wow, who retire long after the demand for any new music for them has faded, essentially confirming the long understood: their careers are over.

But those types of retirements may be coming to a halt, because in the 24/7 media and social media era, there are more opportunities than ever for rappers to remain relevant and, more probably more importantly, lucrative. Reality TV is no longer being scoffed at as a last resort, and VH1’s cavalcade of series have helped sustained the careers of the likes of Remy Ma, and launched the career of the indomitable Cardi B. Retirees like Joe Budden and N.O.R.E. are proving that, much like athletes, rappers can settle into media roles after their active careers end. They can remain in the limelight as personalities or as experts in the field, commentating on the culture or leaning on their connections to secure prominent and insightful interview subjects.

Plus, there are behind the scenes successes as well. Nas—who is on an extended hiatus and not necessarily retired—has made a killing with savvy investments. Yung Berg may have developed into a bit of a punchline during his career as a rapper, but he enjoys life now as a celebrated producer and songwriter behind the scenes. TDE’s Punch began his career as an aspiring rapper before putting that on hold to successfully serve as president of the label home of Kendrick Lamar. Rappers who are still active like Pusha T and Rick Ross have settled into roles as label presidents, while others like Big K.R.I.T. have expressed interest in filling other label jobs in artist development to help new artists. Now, more than ever, the possibilities for life after rap are endless.

With social media, and the everlasting desire to be seen and celebrated, the days of simply fading away into obscurity are long gone. Now, with eyes always on renowned figures both past and present, it benefits them to keep their affairs in order and remain a success in some realm. If not, they’ll be chastised, meme’d and mocked into infamy.

Now, with increased opportunities and all of the new avenues opening daily for respected figures in the culture to exist, be celebrated and rewarded handsomely for simply existing, a retirement plan and life after rap does seem to be taking shape. Those acts that are beyond their expiration date, or simply too mentally exhausted by the entire cycle, can call it quits and move onto the next phase of their careers. And maybe, as hip-hop enters its sixth decade, and has solidified itself as the industry’s most popular genre of music, those acts that do choose to move on and retire, can do so, honorably, without fear of being ridiculed. Maybe, like the athletes whose footsteps they’re following in, they can even be celebrated for doing so.

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