On Hip Hop Is Dead, Nas does a remarkable thing: he becomes the embodiment of the underground, "backpack" Rap lovers that have flooded the Internet in the last decade. He spends more time asking people to recite Big Daddy Kane lines and pondering what happened to Funky 4 +1. While things like this might sound good to guys who have grown up through Hip-Hop's early stages, it's hard to base an entire genre of music on the old school, just like it was wrong for Jeezy to try and base Nas' relevance today on street cred. You have to blend both the street with the science, History is nothing without new niggas to learn it. In short, there's no reason to diss on young niggas who had no one to teach them the classics of Hip-Hop: instead, Nas should play more of the teacher he can be, and enlighten the youth. He did "UBR" on the last one, but nothing on this one? The ball has been dropped...
He also dropped the ball beatwise. I mean, I cannot say it enough: why the fuck is will.i.am producing THREE cuts on this, including the God-awful title track? What sense does it make to recycle the sample you used on your last joint, and totally Diddy-fy the lick? "Thief's Theme" was some true "street-hop": eerie, brooding and intoxicating. This new creation is what's wrong with Hip-Hop now, from the predictable fills right on down to will's unnecessary "is deeeeead" drop-ins. If we want to truly examine why Hip-Hop died, part of it had to do with the "Jiggy Era", where the risky business of "Suicidal Thoughts" and "edutainment" was thrown aside for cats who took hits and made hits with them. Why contribute to that, then question someone else's hustle? The G.O.D. doesn't stop there, though. To further muddy the title of this disc, Nas brings in guys like Scott Storch, Kanye West and Snoop to produce and guest on the album. What for? Why not replace those names with guys like Primo, Extra P and, I don't know, Slick Rick or some shit? You would just think, with a title that to the point, he'd take some steps to reinvigorate the music, not help usher it into it's corporate grave.
On the flipside, however, there are some points that cannot be disputed. "Black Republican" saves this release, with L.E.S. crafting a stormer out of some Godfather samples to let Jay-Z and Nas do what the fans have wanted for years: hear two of the game's finest of all time kick that raw for 3 minutes and 45 seconds. There's no real need to debate who did who in, who shitted on whom... I mean they both came dope, and this is as good a look as ever. L.E.S. also does wonders with some classic Headhunters-era Herbie Hancock for "You Can't Kill Me", providing some slick boom-bap for Nas' surprisingly fresh flows. One of those tracks where the old Nasty comes out in full view. Dr. Dre comes correct, giving Nas one of his signature grown-man boom bap beats on "Hustlers" (formerly known as "QB True G"), allowing Nas to coast all over that first verse. The Game holds his own, but he is really just on this one to give his mentors handjobs over a raw track. "Who Killed It" is a weird one... Salaam Remi and will.i.am jack the "I Ain't No Joke" drums and throw some weird movie score samples and loops over the track. I cannot tell if this is Nas putting on a weird voice on the verses, or if it's some other nigga entirely... but if you listen to the story, you'll be in for a smooth groove. Kanye drops a nice, cymbal-heavy beat on "Let There Be Light", but the chorus would have sounded better somewhere else, and by the way Nas is rhyming, he probably feels the same way.
It's hard to really get into this album. On one hand, I want it to be the best thing since Illmatic, and you can hear Nas getting his pen-game on with some of these tracks. He has never really stopped being a dope rapper, but along the way he started picking weak beats, and leaving the gems on the cutting room floor. Hip Hop Died when MCs took their true craft and diluted it to make money. Hip Hop Died when Corporate America peeped in and realized that, wow, we can really make money off of these niggers! And, sadly, Hip Hop Died when these MCs thought that any old malarky they put on a compact disc would equate to sales as long as they got the right mixture of current hitmakers, guest MCs/vocalists, and the right title. I'm half-surprised that Lil' Wayne didn't make it onto any of these cuts. I'm also surprised Pitchfork gave this album such a good review. It's hard for me to get excited over the selection of beats, and when I do try to overcome the snoozers, I get treated to tracks like "Blunt Ashes", which has Nas asking if old Black writers got lit before telling stories... he then goes on, trying to rap as slow as Chris Webber's coma-inducing beat goes, playing the "Let's see how many old Black people's names we can put into a track" game.
Maybe Hip Hop isn't dead. Maybe Hip Hop is just tired, giving birth to all of these babies out here. She was born in the late 70s, and has been molested, mass marketed, whored, and is the mother of many children. She still shows glimpses of her old self from time to time, but she knows who butters her bread, and over the last 10-12 years, she has been more focused on flirting with the young MTV boys, getting her drink on, fantasizing about bling, all the while trying to masquerade as if she was better than everyone else. She still has potential, but until she gets out of this piff-haze, she will still be another whore, another hustle, and a fucking disappointment. I miss you, Hip Hop, and while Nas might act like he does, too, he has a funny way of showing it.
rock the dub gives Hip Hop Is Dead a 6 out of 10. Not only does this release focus too much on lax beats and "old man in the club" posturing, but it is unfocused and unreliable. A true MC's MC, Nas needs to pick up the ball and get let his swagger run for an entire LP.
Nas' Hip Hop Is Dead hit stores on December 19th, 2006. Check out his website for more information.
Perpetuum: "This would be a fantastic album... ...if it were an album by Nas."