RIYLTalib Kweli & Madlib
Tracklist1. Money Over Bullshit
2. You Can't Kill Me
3. Carry on Tradition
4. Where Are They Now
5. Hip Hop Is Dead
6. Who Killed It?
7. Black Republican
8. Not Going Back
9. Still Dreaming
10. Hold Down the Block
11. Blunt Ashes
12. Let There Be Light
13. Play on Playa
14. Can't Forget About You
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It’s hard to believe the flawless debut that was Illmatic was released over a decade ago because it still holds up today as a work of pure hip-hop art. Twelve years after Illmatic, Nas – who helped define New York hip-hop – thematically lays to rest the foundation he created with Hip-Hop is Dead.
As the genre expanded from the urban underground into mainstream suburbia (see: white people), hip-hop is now the most manipulated, reproduced and commercialized subculture in America. Whether or not hip-hop is really dead is debatable, but its influence is certainly thriving on the charts, as six of the current top 10 Billboard albums are hip-hop, urban, R&B, or soul releases, including the Dream Girls soundtrack and the predominantly hip-hop/urban Now 23.
But this phenomenon is exactly what irks Nas: hip-hop heritage – like rock and punk – is in its decline. Do the tracks on Now 23 effectively display hip-hop as its own deserving art form? Not exactly. Enter: Nas’ beef. On “Carry On Tradition,” Hip-Hop is Dead’s theme is direct and jaded, as Nas vehemently flows, “Now some of the new rappers have their caps flipped backwards, with their fingers intertwined in some gang sign madness / I got an exam, let’s see if y’all pass it: Let’s see who can quote a Daddy Kane line the fastest.” I know I can’t, and I’m pretty sure neither can J-Kwon, hip-hop’s official angel of death.
Back to the album though: Hip-Hop is Dead is lyrically sharp – as is nearly every Nas effort – with superb production from will.i.am, Kanye West, and even west-coast godfather Dr. Dre donating a beat on the sensational “Hustlers.” As solid as Hip-Hop is Dead is, it still somehow feels faintly trite and late upon arrival. Had this album been released as a prophecy, say five years ago instead, its impact upon the hip-hop community might be even greater. Additionally, at 16-tracks, Hip-Hop is Dead loses some steam midway through after an incredible start and a relatively strong finish. However, these petty quibbles rarely take away from the album’s overall strength.
With an arguably controversial album such as this, Nas is out to make a statement, and did so successfully, proving that lyrically provocative hip-hop still has a place in the mainstream. Hip-Hop is Dead debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts, and stayed in the top 10 for two more weeks, achieving Gold status. Maybe, and hopefully, it’s not dead, but just hibernating.