Nas

Hip Hop Is Dead
(Def Jam)

The cover shot shows Nas about to drop a black rose into hip-hop's open grave. But this is more a wake-up call than a eulogy, as though he's saying hip-hop may be going down, but it's not going down without a fight from Nas, who pronounces it dead here with the passion (and nostalgia) of a true believer. In a title track built on the stoner-rock riff of the old Iron Butterfly hit "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," the man who gave the world Illmaticsays he's on his second marriage — "hip-hop's my first wifey, and for that we're not taking it lightly/If we should die, we die together." In that same track, he outlines the symptoms of hip-hop's condition ("Everybody sound the same/Commercialized the game") before diagnosing the root of the illness as "it forgot where it started," a theme that flows through several tracks preaching respect for tradition. Some may find the concept cranky, but the better tracks hold up outside the context of that concept, from the dark, hypnotic "Money Over Bullshit" to the dark, dramatic "Black Republican," which boasts a Jay-Z guest appearance and a brooding sample from The Godfather Part II.

 
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