Andre 3000’s vulnerability on Kanye’s ‘Life of the Party’ is what hip-hop needs
OPINION: Touré writes that Andre’s soul-bearing verses on the record showcase grown, heartfelt, deep lyrics about the concerns of middle-aged life
I’m someone who’s loved hip-hop since its earliest days. I’ve grown old with it, and there’s something I need — hip-hop that is as grown as I am. When I was a teenager, I had “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “I Can’t Live Without My Radio.”
When I was in college and my political consciousness was developing, I had Public Enemy, X Clan, and the Jungle Brothers. But now I’m a parent dealing with mortgages and mortality and long-term mourning over my late father and fears about my kids’ future—where is the hip-hop for me?
I know there’s a lot of hip-hop creators and fans who are 40-something or 50-something and still in love with hip-hop and we deserve a more mature wing of the culture that speaks to our world as middle-aged people. I need more than songs about the streets, sex, and confidence. Where’s the records about vulnerability and midlife concerns?
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I know that’s not as sexy as saying, “I ain’t never scared,” but if keepin’ it real only means telling the stories of 20-somethings, if it only means bravado and bluster, if it never means sadness or fear, then it’s not really keeping it real. Everyone gets sad. Everyone feels fear.
We’ve seen glimpses of an adult wing of the hip-hop nation here and there—from Jay-Z’s 4:44 album where he admits to infidelity and feeling shame to Nas’ Bye Baby where he talks wistfully about his dead marriage—but we need much more. Older artists who are masters of the craft have to step up and speak to the lives that we’re going through now—which is why I love, love, love “Life Of the Party,” a new song by Kanye West and the legendary Andre 3000.
“Life Of the Party” is about parents and Heaven and the love that persists after death. Andre’s verse dominates and he spends it speaking directly to Ye’s late mother Dr. Donda West. He begins “Hey Miss Donda,” which gives me chills to think of him addressing Ye’s mother in Heaven. Of course, he immediately takes it deeper, saying if you see my mother “please tell her I said ‘Say something.’”
And now I’m crying. Andre is calling out for his late mother to speak to him, to communicate somehow—isn’t that what any of us who have lost someone close to us dream about? Give me a sign. Let me know you’re OK. We tend to look for those signs in nature—a bird lands near us or the wind blows at a certain moment, and we think, ‘Oh, that’s mom saying hi.’ Andre needs to hear something because he’s questioning whether Heaven exists which leads to one of the best lines of the song: “If there’s a Heaven you would think they’d let ya speak to your son.”
This is grown, heartfelt, deep lyrics about the concerns of middle-aged people. He needs his mom who’s passed away and he’s reminiscing on getting advice from her while smoking cigarettes together and he’s questioning the existence of an afterlife but he hasn’t lost faith. He says maybe she has spoken to him through the laugh of a baby passing by in a stroller or through a blade of grass pricking him—both little things that he says inspire him to keep going, keep moving, keep pushing. Which he needs because “Tell her I’m lost.”
Hip-hop is filled with so much confidence, so much ego, so much unbreakable strength, and that’s great–there’s a place and a need for that–but many of us don’t realize that showing vulnerability is a form of strength. Allowing yourself to be weak and admitting that you’re weak is a form of strength. Andre saying that he feels lost is one of the hardest things he could ever say.
Andre goes on, shifting to asking Ye’s mom to speak to Andre’s father and now I’m bawling. The world of hip-hop and fathers is deep. There’s so much pain there, so much bitterness, so much betrayal. So many songs or lines where rappers talked about dads who were toxic or invisible. Andre wonders if his dad was happy and how he felt about Andre having his mother’s last name—he says they must have been going through it when he was born.
He’s going deep into his family history and the pain there and then says “God keeps me around for what I don’t know,” another way of saying he’s lost. And we can sense that he feels lost in the way Andre, this beloved genius, has faded away from public life.
Talib Kweli once told me you don’t retire from hip-hop, the audience retires you, but Andre is one of the few who walked away from the game. There’s millions of people who would love another album from the great 3K but he’s just not up to it. He told Rick Rubin in a 2021 interview on the Broken Record podcast that he has social anxiety and he’s hypersensitive.
He said, “There have been times where I’ve prayed to a God that I didn’t even know existed, like, ‘I’d rather you take this away from me. All of this, if I could just feel normal. Take the voice career, all that shit, you can have it. If I can feel normal.”
Andre says he’s alone 95% of the time. His mental health issues have quieted his legendary career. And he’s not shying away from that—it’s here on the record. He’s saying God, Why am I here? What is my purpose? And it could sound crazy but sometimes questioning your place on Earth is the sanest thing you can do.
Kanye then picks up with a verse that’s mostly nonsense. It would’ve been great if a producer had secretly cut it off. He talks about a teacher who let him slide because she saw his potential and knew he didn’t need her rigor, which somehow unwittingly encapsulates the life of Ye. People have gotten angry with him but not really made him take responsibility for his actions from whatever happened with Taylor Swift to whatever happened with Donald Trump and that has led to both great art and a series of increasingly toxic actions that shows perhaps he should have been forced to take responsibility to prevent more toxicity.
But here we are; Ye skating through life, getting away with being horrible to people because sometimes he makes amazing things.
The song’s chorus picks up on the theme of communing with the dead by sampling Biggie and concludes with, “as if my tear ducts aren’t already empty,” a bite of DMX, the late, huge-hearted teddy bear, comforting his daughter as they go through a sort of roller coaster ride together. It frightens her but he keeps saying “Daddy’s here,” and he seems like a great dad and it brings together the way the song is about the dead and parents and the love between them and I have no more tears to shed.
I need more hip-hop like this, please. The more older rappers bare their souls, show their vulnerability and keep it real about what it means to be grown, the better.
Touré is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books.
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