And so it begins. The conundrum that almost every hip-hop fan will find utterly unavoidable is upon us. As Nas releases his eighth solo album, it brings us to the inevitable question: Who's album is better? Jay-Z or Nas'? These former foes will forever be associated and compared with one another, perhaps unfairly, since partaking in one of the most recognized rap-beefs in years. But now that Nas is under the Def Jam banner, and Jay-Z just happens to be his boss, a more interesting question has arisen. Has Shawn Carter's influence helped Nas create an album that will resurrect Hip-Hop?
Hip-Hop is Dead, is a clear statement from Nas. It portrays the disillusionment, the hopelessness, and the loss of interest that is increasingly prevalent amongst the more experienced, 'old school' veteran emcees that are becoming all too few and far between. Whereas it is safe to say Hip-Hop is becoming watered down with the tired clichιs of coke, guns, cars and bitches, and every 17 year-old who rhymes is 'the next to blow', not everyone is prepared to let that shit slide. And Nas is stepping up to the plate. You won't find any pot shots at Jay-Z on this one; instead, Nasty tries to inject some genuine excitement back into the art form by combining with his former enemy, on 'Black Republican'. A truly presidential beat provided by longtime Nas collaborator L.E.S marks the entrance of the two, and Jay opens by spitting a little knowledge on the whole situation:
Huddlin over the oven we was like brothers then/
Though you were nothing other than the son of my mothers friend/
We had governin' who would have thought the love would end/
Like ice cold album, all good things/
Never thought we'd sing the same song that all hood sing
It also is a rare moment in which two grown men in Hip-Hop recognise that the coming together of two talents is an ultimately more prosperous situation than to stay beefing a sentiment far too absent from the majority of artists today. The title track, courtesy of Will.I.Am further serves as proof that the Black Eyed Peas frontman is absolutely talented behind the boards, even if he does use the same "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" sample from 2004's 'Thief's Theme'. 'Hip-Hop is Dead' is a much more charismatic track than its predecessor, with funky drum change-ups and pulsating bass-line, Nas demonstrating he's committed to the cause of saving Hip-Hop from the threat of over-commercialisation ("You can't ice me, we here for life B/ On my second marriage, hip-hop's my first wifey/ and for that we not takin it lightly/ if hip-hop should die, we die together/ bodies in the morgue lie together").
Kanye provides two of the albums stronger tracks, 'Still Dreaming', a (pun intended) dreamy track with breezy vocal sample advocating the practice of going after what you want instead of waiting for the next man to do it, and 'Let There Be Light', a contender for best track on the album, and one of the best of the year. A smoky atmosphere sets the scene for Nas to describe some depressing scenery that emits a 'one man army' crusader type feel that repels all the haters, backed up with a truly soulful hook from Tre Williams. Dre steps in for 'Hustlers' featuring The Game, which sees both artists go back and forth repping their respective East and West hoods, and a long overdue return of Nas rhyming over the Doctors backdrop. And keeping with the Hip-Hop is Dead theme of the album, Nas takes a look on the back of a milk carton for missing pioneers and legends alike on 'Where Are They Now', running through names like Busy Bee, King Tee and Special Ed, questioning as to why they aren't still mentioned attempting to pay homage to some of the people who were there from the beginning over a James Brown influenced track.
On Hip-Hop is Dead, Nas also avoids some of the mistakes that have let previous efforts down. While once again combining with Kelis on 'Not Going Back', it avoids the usual cringe-worthy duets of the past, making for a great track in which Nas recognises that he won't, and doesn't want to make another Illmatic, realizing it is time to move on and grow. And did I mention there are no Bravehearts on this album? That's another positive right there.
While there is the odd slip-up (most notably the Pussycat Doll stylings of 'Play on Playa', or the quite average 'Blunt Ashes'), Nas gives us another solid performance, in which you can feel he is sincerely attempting to create an album that tries to incorporate many of the aspects that are missing from today's new crop of artists. The lyricism on this album is what you have come to expect nothing short of fantastic Nas has never sounded more invigorated since Stillmatic. November has given us a slew of great albums Clipse, The Game, Jay-Z and you can add Nas to the list. Just these few releases have firmly rebut the fact that Hip-Hop is Dead, and once you have a listen to the super creative track 'Who Killed It', figure out whom he's having a chat to and perhaps the secret to the apparent resurrection of Hip-Hop is in its last line: "She said if you really love me, I'll come back alive".