Photo courtesy of Runs With Scissors
Before I dig into this review let's get one thing out of the way early on - this album is NOT Illmatic. So let's leave the Illmatic baggage at the door and judge this one on its merits.
Nas is back with his eight studio album titled Hip-Hop is Dead and similar to his past work it has its share of highs and lows. The first song that grabbed me is Who Killed It, which utilizes the same beat as I Ain’t No Joke minus the horn blasts. Nas slips into a old-school-film-noir-accent and delivers a sly, witty, intricate crime story starring Nas as the lead detective trying to solve the murder of hip-hop.
(Look here see / I know You Got Soul, you're trying to hide it / How did you kill a man out in cypress? / One eyed Charlie / He only hangs with the criminal minded / Says you guys did it Doggy Style is he lyin'?/ She says "walk this way, ill tell you a Children's Story / We hit the bodega, got her a few 40s / We jumped in my ride / We drove and she cried / Twisted off the cap there and opened her mouth wide / Swallowed it / Whole Bottles half empty / Drinks like a fish, now she's past tipsy / The truth came out as we got to her suave house / Chopped and screwed her mouth and sat me on the couch / I said its gettin' late, c'mon give it to me straight / Who's ya sponsor lady? / She says "Bill Gates" / Whattya born, 77? 78? / She says "nah it goes way to an earlier date" / slave times / Claims the slaves said rhymes / But she fell in love with some fella named Clive / Who? / Clive Campbell from Sedgwick Ave / The Bronx / Now she shows me the cash / I said who's Clive?, don't play wit me skirt! / She said Clive Campbell.....he's Kool Herc / Ahaaa Ahaaaaa!!!!)
The more I ruminate over Who Killed It the more its genius stands out. Nas is one of the few artists that can pen and deliver a song which reinforces his power while simultaneously reminding us of what good hip-hop should sound like. If Nas didn't raise the bar so high we wouldn't have the opportunity to lament the moments where he can't hit that bar. Moments like Who Killed aren't fully sustained on HHID. The album plays uneven and my major gripe is with the beats. They're not bad or cringe inducing but they’re run-of-the-mill beats we've all heard. Some sound dated. See Money Over Bullshit. Also, am I the only person not feeling the Kanye produced tracks? All beats aside, the lion's share of HHID is top notch. On Where Are They Now? Nas takes us on a journey through the history of hip-hop name dropping mc's of old that have either faded or disappeared and asks, where are they now? I've often wondered the same thing about various hip-hop artists but some I've forgotten and would like to keep that way. Is Nas really yearning to hear the Fu-Schnickens!?!? Unlike others, I can get past the recycled beat used for the title track Hip Hop is Dead. The song works because Nas' delivery is inspired, not forced, giving the track a vitality and earnestness that's occasionally missing on his later work. Black Republican featuring Jay Z is a tight little number once you get passed any unreasonable expectations. Each man held their own so I‘m calling a draw. One of the best songs on the album, Can't Forget About You, samples Nat King Cole and presents Nas settling into his elder statesman status. (“There comes a day in your life/ when you wanna kick back / straw hat on the porch when you’re old perhaps/ wanna gather your thoughts / have a cold one, brag / to your grand kids on how life is golden.”) Hustlers is a charged collaboration with the Game who delivers a verse stroking Nas' ego. Rounding out the highlights is Hold Down The Block, a typical Nas track serving up a driving beat coupled with a gritty street tale. Overall HHID is uneven but the highs make up for the lows putting it a small notch below Stillmatic. Like most of Nas' post Illmatic work HHID could have been edited down a song or three and spiffed up with a few more fresh beats. Illmatic expectations are a bitch but Nas didn't miss the mark by much.
Buy Hip-Hip is dead here and here. Check out Nas on Myspace here. And if you haven't already purchased tickets to his December 22 concert at Nokia theatre, sorry, it's sold out. UPDATE: Nas just added another show at Webster Hall. Click here for tickets.