By Jabari Asim
WASHINGTON—There were only 500 invitees to Nas’ birthday party, so I suppose I shouldn’t find it remarkable that I wasn’t one of them.
The popular rapper, a chart-topper for years, turned 33 a few weeks ago. The celebrants on hand included Diddy, Usher and Kanye West (c’mon, don’t try to act like you don’t know who these folks are). Along with their bodyguards and the requisite dozens of beautiful young ladies in slinky dresses, they came to New York’s swank Canal Room at the behest of Kelis.
The stylish Kelis is a chart-topper herself, best known for her sexy hit “Milkshake.’’ (Oh please, you have to know that one. I bet it’s in your iPod.) According to news reports, the lovely hostess did a star turn in a number of fetching ensembles, including a glittery, gold Playboy bunny costume.
I’m familiar with Kelis (pronounced Kuh-LEES) mostly because my eldest son painted a color portrait of her a few years back, when he was studying art in college. At the time he labored under the delusion that he and the singer would someday be a couple. He was fond of describing the painting as a rendering of his “future wife.’’ I told him that’s exactly how I used to describe the poster of Donna Summer that graced my bedroom wall in high school.
Out of sympathy for his delicate sensibilities, I didn’t tell him about Nas’ birthday bash. You see, as my son is painfully aware, Kelis is married to Nas—and that’s what I really find remarkable. It’s not that Nas managed to land such a beauty. After all, he has always been popular with the ladies. It’s that the pair chose to get hitched after their much-publicized courtship.
Kelis, twenty-something and a favorite of fashionistas and trend spotters, actually bucked current developments when she chose legal matrimony. Increasingly, people her age are deciding to do without the wedding rings. According to a recent Census Bureau survey, the number of unmarried opposite-sex couples living together has increased by 14 percent since 2000. And while a majority of households of Americans ages 35 to 64 continue to be headed by married couples, folks ages 25 to 34 are opting out of wedlock. Taken together, only 49.7 percent of households in the United States—less than half—are now headed by married couples.
It seems even more unlikely that rap stars would settle down in such traditional fashion. After all, most of them fit in that 25 to 34 demographic. On top of that, most rappers are African-Americans, a group seldom associated with the wedding march in recent decades. In 2002, for example, 48 percent of black families were headed by married couples, down from more than 70 percent in 1963.
I realize it’s flirting with folly, but I’m still heartened by a beloved hip-hopper’s decision to pursue what at least bears some resemblance to an old-school romance. It raises the possibility that young fans, who’ve demonstrated their willingness to adopt the worst qualities of the entertainers they admire, may in turn imitate their most honorable impulses. Of course, rap music, much of which enthusiastically disses women, remains woefully distant from what we might describe as family values. Some of its most misguided attributes were on display at Nas’ party, when his wife presented him with a cake decorated with sugary imitation marijuana leaves and “blunts,’’ cigars stuffed with marijuana.
Nas told The New York Times, “this party made my marriage.’’ For added perspective, he might turn to other famous hip-hoppers who have strutted down the aisle. LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube are all among the duly wed, and Kanye plans to join them soon.
Snoop, who showed up at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards with black women on leashes, evidently is more thoughtful at home. Speaking about the woman who has shared his life for 13 years, he told GQ magazine, “You gotta really work at it for it to work. It ain’t easy, but I think we’re gonna grow old together.’’
I never thought I’d say this, but I hope Snoop is right.
Jabari Asim’s e-mail address is asimj(at symbol)washpost.com.