Hip Hop Is Dead

New York rapper Nas’s Hip Hop Is Dead (out 12/19) is the one hip-hop record you’ll be hearing about all winter — even if you never deliberately listen to hip-hop.

Nas is considered one of the bards of rap, with something to say about the culture beyond the bling-gun-ho boilerplate. In the title track, a meditation on the mass marketing of hip-hoppiness, he works in commentary on everything from McDonald’s commercials and Botox to the basketball commissioner (“David Stern with his NBA fashion issues”). And the ironic refrain — “Roll to every station, murder the DJ” — references, of all things, the ultra-white ’80s Brit band the Smiths (“Hang the DJ”) while challenging urban radio’s glorification of violence.

What’s so compelling about this CD is that it reenergizes politically aware, up-from-the-projects New York hip-hop. At the same time, it heads in all kinds of unexpected, nearly symphonic musical directions (“Hip Hop Is Dead,” the single, kicks off with the Iron Butterfly “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” riff) while putting guest stars including Kanye West, Jay-Z, The Game, and will.i.am (from the Black Eyed Peas) to great use.

Incidentally, Nas’s “Shine,” from the soundtrack of the new Leonardo DiCaprio movie Blood Diamond, is the year’s literal anti-bling song, with its angry call to action (“When you shop for a gift for me / you think about the misery / the same way we made apartheid history”).

“>HEAR three tracks (as free streaming audio) from Hip Hop Is Dead, plus “Shine,” from Blood Diamond (FYI: the lyrics are not necessarily workplace-friendly)

“>BUY Hip Hop Is Dead

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