Nas Hip Hop Is Dead

It’s clear that being a young, hungry, angry artist with nothing to lose and everything to gain does wonders for your music. Like early Bob Dylan, Nas has Illmatic to back that up. Like Dylan, he changed his chosen genre permanently by introducing to it what was, basically, unprecedented lyricism, writing that created musical storytelling that is still unrivalled. And also like Dylan (because you’re supposed to have three points to support a thesis), he released several mid-career duds followed by recent successes that sound very little like those first albums. While, personally, I’m skipping over the entire gist of the Hip Hop Is Dead theme because rap needs to stop talking about itself and just be better, Nas, who is no longer the young buck but still not an out-of-touch millionaire, delivers all I want from him: some space for his incredible gift for detailed, meaningful words. Instead of verbal trickery forced to sacrifice style for substance, or the slogan, cliché, pop culture reference and repeat combo, Nas writes songs about things. "Where Are They Now” waxes poetic on the old school, while "Carry on Tradition” cuts it down and the Kanye and the Game collaborations are high-quality. The much-anticipated team-up with Jay-Z is here and of course, it’s great, even though I’m tiring of Jay and his 30 is the new boring steez. So, while Dylan’s Modern Times may not measure up to The Freewheelin’, just as Hip Hop Is Dead doesn’t to Illmatic, half the appeal is that it’s not trying to and it’s still dope as fuck. (Def Jam)