When the album name The Hip Hop is Dead became known, the rumors began. Then a few interviews, like XXL putting Nas’ words in bold when he says: “Let’s get our paper, fuck Hip Hop”. Then even his biggest fans began to think that their idol has lost faith. And who can blame them all thinking this way? The very point of The Hip Hop is Dead was to illustrate the problem with the industry. After Mobb Deep’s comeback flopped, Mase failed to even resurface despite all the claims and ‘G-G-G’ talks, even Kingdom Come did not do that great past the first week. The fear began to spread. The less faithful citizens of Hip Hop yelled ‘Help!’, followed by ‘I told you so’ and put Nas in a long row of the past icons faded and done changed.
The problem with the ‘old school’ artists is that their new music is all so similar to their old stuff. From BCC to J5 to MOP the trend was finally broken. Nas brought forth the most real issues in today’s Hip Hop but he did it with the same lyrical and MC talent and swagger of the past.
So once again, like the Phoenix from ashes or a Greek God in an ancient fable, those 16 tracks shook us all and Nas re-emerged in all his glory. He came back with a title for the new album that had people talking for months, speculating and gossiping, getting excited and proclaiming the final scores. It was not a paradox. It was an inevitable impossibility. How can the man who is the very essence of Hip Hop say that Hip Hop is dead and say it through the best album of ’06 while putting on a series of concerts? Combining the raw Hip Hop nature of Styles P., the consciousness of The Roots, the years in the rap game, matched by the fallen BIG and 2Pac and the commercial success exceeding that of 50 cent, Nas represents the Hip Hop music like no other man in the game right now. Untouched by the executive rush, which has infected everyone from Jay and JD to the above-mentioned 50 and even Talib and Redman, he stays true to the art itself, with no substitutes or replacements. The absolute master of ‘beef’, his Ether even exceeded KRS’ Da Bridge in popularity. Granted KRS put it out as one of the very first lyrical battles in Hip Hop, but the question is not only who started it all, it’s who’s still in the game just the way it was in the beginning. Some call it a lack of progress, but those people did not hear these 16 tracks.
The dot com bubble burst because too many people with no business sense tried to start companies. As there are too many people with no Hip Hop sense (or they had it once and lost it) in the industry, people are waiting for the Hip Hop bubble to burst. Or has it happened already? Or is it happening right now? There is no way to predict what comes next. Beyonce, Ciara and Rhianna all sold far more albums in the opening weeks than Ghost, Meth and Rae. Does that mean that Wu ain’t got it no more? Or perhaps the demand for real Hip Hop can not match that of R&B music. Justin Timberlake tailors to people across most music-listening age groups, skin colors and vicinities. The culture of Hip Hop music does not adjust to any listener the same way. It has to be the right listener. An abundance of slang, industry references and loyalty to the streets are all characteristic to most Hip Hop artists. That is also a large part of what Hip Hop fans expect from their stars. subsequently it makes the music less attractive to those without a real understanding of the game. Hence fans focus on the beats and the flow much more than on the lyrics themselves.
The Hip Hop is Dead refers to those tendencies to some extend. Mostly it pays tribute to old school (Carry On Tradition, Where Are They Now), talks about the supremacy of a few stars in Hip Hop (Black Republicans), makes people understand that Nas is still with them despite the changes (Not Going Back) and of course makes a reference to the commercial trend being somewhat acceptable (Money Over Bullshit). Most importantly Nas says with this record: There is no old school and new school Hip Hop. There is that real Hip Hop and new stuff, they only call Hip Hop. Needless to say, Nas does not have a good thing to say about the new stuff. Putting blame on radio DJs, money hungry folks trying to get paid off of Hip Hop and more, the album does not point a finger. Rather it illustrates how one can be focused on getting paid, remain a Platinum-selling artist and still be that real Hip Hop.
There is no old school and new school Hip Hop. There is that real Hip Hop and new stuff, they only call Hip Hop.
To promote the album Nas did a slew of shows throughout New York City. A Hot 97 sponsored show at the Webster Hall kicked it off. Then 2 concerts at Nokia Theater on the same night. Then a show at the Hard Rock Café, courtesy of MTV.
The Webster Hall show was the most casual of the 3 venues. A few hundred lucky kids got their tickets for free through 97 and the building shook with the crowd chanting ‘Hip Hop’ as Nas got on stage. With no opening act and getting on the mike 30 minutes before the scheduled time, Mr. Jones had no problem getting a reaction from the audience. Doing his classics he even spit a verse from Ether. Of course it was the less offensive part toward his new boss. As the crowd began going insane, Nasir stopped the song, turned around and hid a devilish smile from the audience. As the last words of his final song ended, Nas immediately ran off of the stage and into a van, waiting to take him to his album opening party.
The Nokia Theater shows were a bit more rehearsed. Joined by Coremega and Foxy Brown they were only missing AZ. In ’96 Nas brought forth Coremega on his It Was Written. Next year those two were joined by Foxy and AZ in The Firm, a Dr. Dre all-star supergroup. Foxy was all smiles on stage. Still a bit weaker at the mike she happily proclaimed: “Doctors gave me 1% chance that I will not go deaf and I’m 99% back now!” After spreading the now infamous rumors of her boss, Brown had them backfire on her. In the next several interviews she defended herself from the gossip of being almost dropped from Def Jam. Well, apparently she is staying?
A perfect illustration of Nas’ album title occurred before the MC even got on stage. The opening DJ was spinning NY classics, giving everyone that true Hip Hop feeling and to make it a bit more complete he made it personal. Asking everyone to give a moment of silence to honor his friend who was shot 16 times, he had no idea how dead the Hip Hop culture was at the very show. Immediately someone screamed from the crowd trying to be funny. Granted, the silence was not to honor ODB or Proof or JayDee. Still, the old concert tradition failed to work this time. It was rather fitting for Nas’ second song words: “Now she’s dead… she’s dead.”
After the first show of that night the man stayed up in his room backstage with only a few chosen ones, waiting for the second show to kick off.
At the Hard Rock Café the show was something in-between the Webster Hall and Nokia. There were no Coremega or Foxy, but he was joined by Chrisette Michelle, who did a hook on his Can’t Forget About You. Brand new act to DefJam, she was ecstatic to say the least to be on stage with Nas.
In the 1600’s Shakespeare had Hamlet asking “To be or not to be?” Then in 2006 Nas got everyone asking another question “Is Hip Hop dead?” It would seem that both of the questions have more than 1 answer. Still, if you finished reading the whole piece till the end, the answer to the second question seems obvious. Hip Hop is alive through us all!