It's old news that Nas changed hip-hop in 1992 with Illmatic, a classic of epic proportions. Every album since has been hailed as one of two things: woefully lacking compared to Illmatic, or a mini-triumph signaling a possible return to Illmatic. These criticisms would be reasonable if not for the glaring fact that Nas will never make another Illmatic. He just can't. The story now is not what he might accomplish, but what he already has.
Already ruffling feathers (rappers like Young Jeezy think he's talking to them, people wonder if he's talking about the Southern rap stranglehold, New Yorkers think he's decrying their recent rap irrelevance), Hip Hop is Dead is his strongest album since 2001's Stillmatic. The Game, Kanye, Jay-Z, Snoop all guest with impressive vigor and L.E.S. handles the production bulk to mostly magnificent effect. Like Tupac and Biggie, Nas is a mainstream star with underground clout. Hip Hop is Dead proves he has every right to be revered in both circles.
DOWNLOAD: "Hip Hop is Dead"
Lady Sov is kinda like Britain's 5-foot, female, jankily corn-rowed Bubba Sparxxx, a rapper underrated, overlooked and often maligned outright in her own country because, well, she's complete trailer trash. But books and covers kids, because she's also quick, clever, self-effacing, self-referential and brilliant.
Because most of this album leaked, like, a year ago, though, I almost didn't review it. The mixture of now-familiar leaked barn burners and unfamiliar mediocrity left me nonplussed, annoyed and disappointed. Hardly a mindset for offering an opinion, but there's a lesson here, so I'm reviewing it anyway.
Though there's something refreshing and post-naturalistic about rhymes wondering whether your debit card's been stolen or just left somewhere, songs like "Gatheration" (unleaked) still have the bleep-blip production and her trademark squeak, so they sound familiar. The stuff I had heard -- all summer, nonstop, gleefully of my own accord -- now seems played out, obviously. If you're a label trying to convince people to buy whole albums when they could just buy a single song, you have to protect the sovereignty (pun intentional... or was it?) of your product. This is still filthy, just not shocking.