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A Premature Proclamation of Hip-Hop's Demise

Nas attempts to steer hip-hop in new directions while maintaining his status as one of its foremost personalities.
Nas attempts to steer hip-hop in new directions while maintaining his status as one of its foremost personalities.

It's audacious to declare the end of an entire musical subculture, and downright outrageous to do so when it's your musical subculture. But here's venerated rapper Nas, collaborating with producer will.i.am (of Black Eyed Peas) on "Hip Hop Is Dead," a song that attempts to steer the genre in new directions while reasserting his status as one of its foremost personalities.

Opening with familiar keyboard notes — it samples The Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache," one of the most sampled songs in hip-hop, which in turn draws on Iron Butterfly — "Hip Hop Is Dead" finds room for nostalgia. "Everybody sound the same / commercialize the game," Nas spits. "Reminiscing when it wasn't all business / if it got where it started / so we all gather here for the dearly departed."

Still, the track's overriding sentiment lies in its demand for more from a genre that has changed significantly over the years — specifically, he laments the transition "from Beat Street to commercials on Mickey D's" — with a beat that's as unforgiving as the message it accompanies. Unlike influential rap legends Eric B and Rakim, who once sang "It ain't where you're from / it's where you're at," Nas places hip-hop history in the context of the entertainment industry, in the process sounding a call for craftsmanship over commercialism.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bruce Warren is assistant general manager for programming of WXPN in Philadelphia. Besides serving as executive producer of World Café, Warren also contributes to Paste magazine and writes for two blogs: Some Velvet Blog and WXPN's All About The Music Blog.