Nas on Def Jam seems so ... right. The teaming of the best MC of his generation on the hip-hop label should be the perfect combination. But while this album falls pretty short of perfection, there's still a lot to like about it. Its lyrical brilliance overcomes its uneven execution. Nas may never fulfill his stellar potential, but his ambition is admirable. He went all out in securing a production lineup featuring a murderer's row of hip-hop hitmakers: Dr. Dre, Kanye West, will.i.am, and Scott Storch, with longtime partners L.E.S. and Salaam Remi. Most bring their A-game. Nas raps to his strengths, waxing introspective while lamenting hip-hop's death and the loss of its soul to big business and the hustle. "Black Republican," the long-awaited Jay-Z collab, is a high-octane track. Other winners include "Play on Playa," a smooth duet with Snoop Dogg, and "Can't Forget About You," Nas' reworking of Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable." Hip-Hop Is Dead occasionally goes bafflingly wrong, notably when Nas raps like Edward G. Robinson on "Who Killed It?" or uses a Southern-rap-on-Quaaludes flow on "Blunt Ashes" (produced by the Golden State Warriors' Chris Webber). Despite these missteps, the album is a solid testament to Nas' love of hip-hop, and serves as requiem for the music's passing.
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