Picture Dr. Dre in a pair of Sansabelt slacks and a plaid fishing cap,
working on his golf handicap at a Florida retirement community in between
slugs of Metamucil. It could happen. Dre said so himself.
"I'm 37 years old," he said recently, swearing that his upcoming hip-hop
musical, Detox, will be his final album on the front line (see "Dr. Dre's Final Album Will Be Hip-Hop Musical"). "I'm not
talking about lowriders and blunts and all that anymore. What can I talk
OK, maybe the Florida early-bird circuit isn't exactly what Dre envisioned
when he said his third solo album would mark his retirement from recording.
But if you believe every musician who has vowed that their next
album/tour/appearance would be their last, hey, we have some tickets to the
Rolling Stones' upcoming tour; we hear it's definitely their last one. For real.
Retiring at the top of their game is what many artists wish for and, on
those rare occasions where a band doesn't just fall apart, break up or suffer
a loss, threatening to hang it up is a time-honored rock and pop tradition.
The Rolling Stones, Billy Joel, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder. Believe
it or not, all these bands/singers have either retired from touring, playing
their old songs or making new pop albums.
Of course, almost all of them are touring this summer and trotting out those
old hits. The allure of the lights, camera, crowds and action, not to mention
the money, almost always delays that perfect early retirement.
Lately, hip-hoppers have been getting in on the early 401(k)-cashing action like
never before. Over the past few years everyone from Dre to Snoop Dogg, Master P, P. Diddy and such relative newcomers as Nelly and Ja Rule have threatened to hang up
"I'm going to retire after two more albums," Ja Rule declared in May (see "Ja Rule To Retire From Music So He Can Focus On Films"). After
those albums, Ja said he will quit rhyming and concentrate on his budding
movie career. Then again, he cited twice-retired basketball great Michael
Jordan as his inspiration for the move to the silver screen, so you'll have
to excuse him for leaving that door wide open.
Nas and Noreaga have also recently been quoted as saying that their days on
wax are limited. Bay Area gangsta rapper Too Short did actually retire in
1996, but it was a short-lived vacation, as he came back with a couple of
singles just two years later and released the aptly titled Can't Stay
Away in 1999.
"Once you get the taste of sitting there in the big house soaking in a big
tub and your bank account has big zeros, you figure, 'Been there, done that,
what new adventures are out there for me?' " said Short, who was busy
recording just after he decided to retire. "People like Sugar Ray
Leonard and Michael Jordan, when they reach certain goals, they can step away
from the thing they love. But, then, when you stop doing that thing you love,
it doesn't take long to say, 'Damn, I miss it.' "
So, why quit when you're at the top of your game? Other occupations certainly
don't have a similar career arc. You rarely see a Wall Street trader step
away from a hot streak, and, with the exception of former football great
Barry Sanders, professional athletes rarely walk away before their bodies
"A lot of times when you see people contemplating retirement, that's usually
frustrations," said LL Cool J, who has also done the retirement shuffle in
the past. "The politics can get to you emotionally where you just want to
quit. But you just gotta keep forging ahead."
Which is why, like boxers, it's a rare hip-hop artist who actually goes away
and stays away. One of the few rappers to keep his word is former Bad
Boy rapper Mase, who left the hedonistic hip-hop world in 1999 to become a minister
and (so far) hasn't looked back (see "Mase To Retire From Rap, Cites Religious Reasons").
Perhaps the question should be this: Why is it better not to go out on
"I have yet to actually see someone [in hip-hop] retire and not come back to
the game," said Horace Madison, co-founder of the Madison Smallwood Financial
Group, money managers for a who's who of hip-hop and R&B, including Usher,
Swizz Beatz, Outkast and Mase. "I've seen forced retirement, where no one
buys their records anymore, but not when they still have the ability to sell
records and make money. There's a degree of being out of touch with reality
that clouds their vision and allows them to think that they can retire when they
haven't maxed out their earning potential in the three-to-five-year window they have."
Madison said that while it's cool for rappers to say they're going to retire
to direct, act and/or produce, most artists don't make enough money in that
short window of fame to retire and continue living in the style they're
accustomed to ... or even the one they lived in before fame.
"A lot of people get burnt out by this industry, they get tired of the
pressure, the expectations, everyone pulling them in all directions," Madison said. "But most of them also don't understand what retirement involves,
the effects of inflation or estate planning issues and they're not set
financially, emotionally or socially. Once they have to stand in line to get
into a restaurant and realize that they maybe only had 12 of their 15 minutes
of fame, those other three minutes might not look so bad anymore."
The answer for Too Short is simpler: like his album title said, he can't stay
away. "Hip-hop is a culture, it's in you," he said. "Even if our style of
rap fades out, I'll still be in the basement bangin' on some '80s beats for
my own personal satisfaction. Our generation will still want to see Jay-Z,
even when we're 50. If someone comes out on that stage and says, 'Lemme hear
you say "ho!",' we'll say 'ho!' "