On the second listen, I’m liking Nas’ tribute/memorial to his culture, Hip Hop Is Dead. Like the Transformers, it’s more than meets the eye. I regret that only now is someone at the top proclaiming the same message that backpackers and undergrounds have been ripping for well over a decade now. Yet, having Snoop over for another spit, exhorting to “Play on Playa”, adds a level of complexity, if not stupidity. Same could be said for guest producer /-rapper / Michael Jackson pal / Fergie discipler Will. I. Am on the title track. (Who lays out a leftover beat from BEP‘s Elephunk.)
In this day of cannibalistic music trends (where, again, barely-talented teens with nothing to say run and ruin the urban radio) Nas, like Nat King Cole, wants to be remembered as “Unforgettable” too. Nas seems to want to eat and heave his cake.
Yet, for all his sparse beats, Nas ends on an a capella “Hope”, with a female Greek chorus sounding out that “Hip hop will never die.” “You a hustla’ / you ain’t a rapper / get ya paper / but this s*** is real.” Even his laugh seems to condemn his old rival, now executive producer and guest MC Jay-Z (who guests on the conscience-tweaking “Black Republicans” where both boast about their money, power and connections while reflecting what that means for them as Black Americans – as well as what it means as mainstays, tops and power-brokers in the cannibalism.)
The chorus ends in a cypher-praying against the wind of radio and and self-destructive trends:
“I pray hip hop stay / live, hip hop, live / give, hip hop, give…“