Nas raised quite a few eyebrows when he announced that the title of his highly anticipated eighth studio album would be Hip Hop Is Dead. On a surface level, it appeared that one of the game’s most respected lyricists was leaving the music in the hands of the “Chicken Noodle Soup” generation. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Now under the Carter administration, the former chipped-tooth don is ready to resurrect the culture and explain why he still loves H.E.R.
As with any eulogy, mourners reminisce on good times spent with the dearly departed. Such is the case with tracks like the haunting Chris Webber–produced “Blunt Ashes” and the James Brown–jacked “Where Are They Now.” The latter shows a reflective Nas harking back to the days of Black Sheep and Ill Al Scratch, because “they the reason that rap became addictive/Play their CD or wax and get lifted.”
Nas’ storytelling takes center stage on the vivid hood tale “You Can’t Kill Me” and the Kanye West–produced “Still Dreaming.” But God’s Son saves his most powerful bars for the scathing “Carry On Tradition,” where his utter disdain for the current state of hip-hop is displayed (“Some
of you new rappers, I don’t understand your code…/Do anything to get in the game/Mixtapes you spit hate against bosses/Hungry fucks are moralless.”
Nas does have a few stumbles along the way. The shallow Snoop Dogg–assisted “Play On Playa,” with its pimpalicious vibe, actually seems like the type of song Mr. Jones just finished critiquing. And although the idea of doing a modern day whodunit like “Who Killed It” is light-years beyond most MCs’ mind frame, the cheesy film noir detective voice he uses distracts from the overall message. Aside from that, Nas’ latest opus comprises solid lyrics and layered beats and proves that hip-hop isn’t dead, it’s just been asleep—and sleep is the cousin of death. —SEAN A. MALCOLM
Read the rest of XXL’s Critical Beatdown review section in the XXL’s March 2007 issue (#89)