Until rigor mortis sets in

Nas ends his long silence by declaring ‘Hip Hop is Dead’ – and then tries to prove himself wrong

Megan Kadrmas

The return of Nas was long awaited by classic hip-hop fans, especially those growing tired of radio rap. It was refreshing and even comforting when he boldly announced in the title of his return album what many had been feeling: “Hip Hop is Dead.”

Nas

ALBUM: “Hip Hop is Dead”
LABEL: Def Jam Records

Although, with the return of Nas and other mid-’90s rappers like Jay-Z in the latter part of 2006, one has to wonder if hip-hop really is dead. And, if it is slowly dying, who’s doing the killing?

According to some sources, Nas’ album title was directed at southern rappers who are currently basking in the light of multi-platinum records and top-10 radio hits. The advent of crunk and “snap rap” has also been criticized by other New York acts like KRS-One and Ghostface Killah.

Interestingly, southern rappers were quick on the defensive about these charges. Lil’ Jeezy challenged Nas’ street cred while others, like Outkast’s Big Boi, Lil’ Wayne and Ludacris defended their style of hip-hop.

“Hip Hop is Dead,” could come off as Nas showing the young’uns how hip-hop should be.

On the album’s title track, Nas gets some help from famed producer will.I.am to make his case. The music features driving guitar riffs and a dark edge; and rock-rap enthusiasts ought to take note of how Nas balances the predominately metal-rock music with syncopated hip-hop rhymes. The song’s elements are in perfect harmony and are a refreshing change of pace from radio play.

A lot of “Hip Hop is Dead” sounds like a musical history lesson, with samples from the likes of Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and Nat King Cole. The beats and lyrics also exemplify Nas’ old skool flavor.

“Blunt Ashes,” which is stripped to a bare beat and introspective vocals, proves to be one of the album’s rawest tracks. Nas contemplates, over a few bass buzzes and little else, “As the blunt ash falls into the ashtray / I can see my whole life fly past me / Did I keep it gangster or keep it classy? / And will the money and fame outlast me?”

The song addresses some of Nas’ insecurities with fame, success and longevity. Beyond his own worries about if he’ll be remembered after death, the song is a larger reference to how hip-hop will be remembered after it fades away.

Nas: Hip Hop is Dead Tour

WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: The Myth Nightclub, 3090 Southlawn Dr., Maplewood
TICKETS: $30 adv./$35 door, 18-plus www.ticketmaster.com, (651)779-6984

He needn’t worry about being remembered, though, because as “Hip Hop is Dead” re-solidifies, Nas still has that perfect balance between suit and street that brought him fame on classics like “Ill-matic.”

If “Hip Hop is Dead” doesn’t have you excited about rap again, check your pulse. Because it might not be hip-hop that’s dead, it might be you.