10 Years Later, Nas Says He “Missed The Mark” When He Declared Hip-Hop Is Dead (Video)
A decade ago this week (December 19, 2006), Nas released his eighth solo album, Hip Hop Is Dead. The MC’s first outing with Def Jam Records (with foe-turned-friend Jay Z at the helm) debuted at #1. Nasir released a title track, denouncing the culture he loved as a 15-year professional and symbolically confirming its death. With involvement from Jay, Dr. Dre, Kanye West, The Game, and others, the effort would be Grammy-nominated for “Best Rap Album” (eventually losing to ‘Ye’s Graduation).
Reflecting on the 10th anniversary of Hip Hop Is Dead, Nas and Mass Appeal (in which he is an investor) released two short videos reflecting on the album.
“I’m hearing everybody [use the expression that ‘Hip-Hop is dead’] under their breath. I remember when De La Soul Is Dead had came out. I liked that they were able to do something different like that. I never saw anybody kill off themselves,” Nas says of De La Soul’s sophomore album, which released in the same 1991 where Nas appeared on Main Source’s Breaking Atoms album. “I felt like it would be dope if I could say something like ‘Hip-Hop is dead’ that would make some of the young guys realize that not only can you follow what’s happening today, but you can go back into the history. I was just trying to open up the art form. In retrospect, I missed the mark by miles. I didn’t want to pick people apart. Felt like it was for a younger artist to do. I felt like the title was enough.”
That album contained several key tracks to the overarching theme. Nas released “Where Are They Now,” with a litany of artists that influenced and challenged him, that had since left the limelight. Later, the MC released remixes with many of these rappers on the track. Included were Dres, Positive K, Father M.C., Kam, Monie Love, King T, and others. “Carry On Tradition” also argued to create a more linear culture, with respect to the conventions established by the pioneers and innovators.
In another video, Nas explained the calculated move on his part to use an Incredible Bongo Band “In A Gadda Da Vida” sample for consecutive album first singles. “I’m handing you this rose, [so that] it’s up to you to say ‘Nah, [Hip Hop is not dead]’,” explains the Def Jam MC of the artwork. “Since it’s called Hip Hop Is Dead, why not use the beat from the single of the previous album on the new single. [Laughs] will.i.am didn’t know that; he didn’t know [about ‘Thief’s Theme’ as the lead single from 2004’s Streets Disciple]. He pieced the record together based on pieces I had left when I left the studio. When he played me the record, I was like, ‘That’s it!'” That song would lead the campaign with the album.
In a third video, Nas explained why Jay Z collaboration “Black Republican” and its Godfather film sample was an unlikely choice for a single. He also explains how Jay encouraged him to let the track breathe before the pair made their symbolic olive-branch collaboration.
Nas has released two solo albums since, both grabbing #1’s, in addition to his Reggae fusion album, Distant Relatives, with Damian Marley. Both solos also earned “Best Rap Album” nods, yielding no awards.
In the years since Hip Hop Is Dead, Nas reunited with mentor Large Professor to collaborate. He has also worked with elder veterans such as Beastie Boys, KRS-One, Scarface, Big Daddy Kane, DJ Premier, and others.