Monday, October 30, 2006

the young ones

Forget 'Grandmaster' or 'Lil,' now it seems every rapper wants to be 'Young'

By Brett Johnson

Associated Press

Hip-hop has always been about youth. Yet these days, perhaps more than ever, rap has become a young man's game -- literally.

With a generation of rappers sharing the prefix ``Young'' -- Young Jeezy, Young Dro, Young Buck, Yung Joc, among others -- it's clear that today's hip-hop places a premium on not only what's new, but who's young.

Young Jeezy (born Jay Jenkins), 29, claims his alias dates to his days hustling in Atlanta, long before he even started rhyming professionally.

``I was always the young dude in the clique, so the OG homies used to call me `Young,' '' he says.

But at age 29, Jeezy -- who is preparing to release his sophomore disc, ``The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102,'' in December -- knows he may not be able to call himself Young too much longer.

``I feel young though. I feel I represent for the young; this is my way of kind touching base with them,'' he explains, before adding, ``Yeah, ain't nobody want to (deal) with you if they think you old.''

Tamara Palmer, author of ``Country Fried Soul: Adventures of Dirty South Hip-Hop,'' recalls an earlier time when rap names such as Grandmaster Flash or Grand Wizard Theodore often denoted age and wisdom. (The most notable exception being late '80s one-hit wonder, Young MC.)

``Now people are caught up in projecting themselves as being youthful,'' Palmer says. ``It makes you wonder -- when Jeezy's 50, is he still Young Jeezy?''

Palmer acknowledges that historically, rap artists have used similar pseudonyms. One could compile a long list of variations: Lil (Lil Kim, Lil Cease, Lil Jon, Lil Scrappy, Lil Wayne) or Mac (Mac Dre, Mac Mall) or Big (Big Daddy Kane, Big Pun, Notorious B.I.G). She says the name ``borrowing'' has more to do with market considerations than a lack of creativity.

``People are afraid to be too esoteric or `out there' with their aliases, because they want to have a name that doesn't scare away the masses,'' Palmer adds. ``Lil Wayne is not the most innovative moniker out there, for example, but he's undoubtedly creative when it comes to his wordplay.''

Rodney Toole, 21, had to play around with his name before sticking with Young Hot Rod.

"Coming into the rap industry, I was actually Young Rod, a name I had since junior high," says the Sacramento native who signed to 50 Cent's G-Unit label in February. "We changed it to Hot Rod because there were too many Youngs in the industry, and with Young Buck being down in the crew."

But to avoid copyright issues with another rock act called Hot Rod, he agreed to tack on Young. "You'll see Young Hot Rod in print and on the album cover," he says, referring to his forthcoming debut, "Fastlane."

"But I tell everyone to call me Hot Rod."

His labelmate Young Buck (born David Brown), 25, remains diplomatic about the whole trend. Like Jeezy, the Nashville MC earned his title from the older hustlers he ran with before his rap career took off.

"Rappers see us winning and they grab hold of the Young cause they want to win," says Buck, who second solo disc, "Buck The World," drops in November. "At the end of the day, it don't get me upset. I'd almost sound wrong for checking a (fellow rapper) about his name. It ain't that serious."

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