Nas was wrong. Yes. There, it’s been said.
And regardless of his intentions or actual beliefs leading to the release of his 2006 album “Hip-hop is Dead,” the title has spawned an elitist, selfish, narrow-minded attitude among hip-hop heads, who now feel empowered in looking down on others who just don’t share their tastes.
Of course, hip-hop also involves breakdancing, graffiti and DJing, but those who’ve most latched on to Nas’ statement seem to agree with him strongest in regards to the fourth element – rapping, or more precisely, lyrics.
The title of Nas’ album should’ve been, “My Hip-hop is Dead,” or something along the lines of, “My 1994, Queensbridge, ‘Illmatic’ Hip-hop is Dead.”
Because others’ aren’t. And yes, hip-hop can mean more than one thing.
In terms of lyrics, to Chuck D, it seemed to mean thunderously unloading on sociopolitical obstacles America placed in front of the historically oppressed. To Eazy E, it seemed to mean a way to stop dealing drugs, and to tell a story about the criminal life he and his peers led.
Both rappers left distinctly different legacies beginning in the mid-to-late ’80s due to their starkly contrasting subject matter, yet neither one is considered today to be less representative of hip-hop than the other.
Even though today’s South-dominated landscape of popular rap may bear little resemblance to its ’70s and ’80s precursors carved in other regions, it’s not as if some of the much-maligned aspects of the genre suddenly came into existence at the turn of the millennium, nor at the deaths of Tupac and Biggie – often cited as the downward turning point in rap, even by Nas himself.
Twenty-one years before Clipse released 2006’s “Hell Hath No Fury,” Schoolly D (“all about making that cash mon-ey”) was similarly bragging about cocaine, prostitutes and holding a pistol to a rival’s head on “P.S.K. What Does It Mean?”
It actually meant “Park Side Killers” and has been cited by Ice-T as inspiring his “6 ‘N the Mornin,’” which in turn is credited as inspiring N.W.A.’s “Boyz-n-the Hood.”
The latter songs epitomized a certain element of violent bravado during an era (ironically) usually celebrated as the “golden age” of the craft. They may have been more unprecedented than contemporary counterparts – and thus naturally more interesting – but perhaps not more authentic. Just because subject matter is recurrent doesn’t mean the stories emanating from it are.
Nineteen years prior to Cam’ron appearing in 2006 on the cover of his “Killa Season” wearing about six necklaces at once, Eric B. & Rakim adorned their revered “Paid in Full” rocking gold medallions nearly the size of bowling balls, in front of a background of money.
Now, that’s not to say the to-do list for a successful career today is the same as back then. Admittedly, that much is obvious – “she moves her body like a cyclone” is a long way from “it’s tricky to rock a rhyme.”
But even in those cases, it doesn’t necessarily mean the former isn’t within the same broader artistic classification as the latter.
Claiming hip-hop is dead or that most of today’s popular rap isn’t “real” is akin to claiming 1-percent milk (crunk, for the sake of argument) or skim milk (being hyphy, for instance) aren’t actually milk (all things ’70s and ’80s New York).
They may not be much like the original, but nonetheless, their basis is in milk, their producers sell them as milk and consumers buy them with the understanding they’re milk, so they are indeed milk.
By the same token, the stories and twists of today’s torchbearers are not so blasphemously incongruent with their predecessors’. They’re simply theirs, not those of Nas and his day’s characters – and that’s what the “hip-hop is dead” crowd seems to have forgotten.
Hip-hop hasn’t been killed by its current caretakers. It’s merely been changed.
And for more old-fashioned shoppers, Blackalicious, Blueprint, Brother Ali, CunninLynguists, The Demigodz, Little Brother, Murs, One Be Lo, The Perceptionists, Planet Asia, Tonedeff, Zion I and plenty others like them are also for sale.
They may not be offered on the same highly visible shelf, but that doesn’t make them, nor their art form, dead.
Donovan Aird is a journalism senior and the Mustang Daily sports editor.