Six years ago Nas‘ conviction on the state of hip-hop–he believed it was dead–left several of his peers disgruntled and defensive. Ticking rap heads off aside, Hip Hop Is Dead charted at No. 1. How’s that for a non-response to the critics? On the day of his 10th album release for Life Is Good, VH1 talked with the master storyteller to find out what he thought about hip-hop today. Obviously the backlash years ago didn’t phase him because he said if he felt the genre was in trouble again, he’d say it. Again. Although he doesn’t think it’s dead right now, he thinks it has died many deaths.
“Hip-hop has had many deaths,” he said. “First was when it changed from the park jams and went to corporate America. It became a business, then there was an element lost.” He attributes the changes, i.e. metaphorical deaths to its expansion. “It grew so big and so wide that it makes no sense anymore,” said the Life Is Good rapper. “Anybody can be a rapper, but not anybody can be a classical artist.” He made the point that there’s no respect for the art form. “Hip-hop, everybody’s allowed to come in it, because it’s a street thing,” Nas said. “I heard someone say, ‘Frank Ocean hip-hop artist.’ He is, hip-hop loves Frank Ocean, he’s our brother, but [he’s not a hip-hop artist]. Miguel is not a hip-hop artist,” he said. “Trey Songz is not a hip-hop artist. They’re singers.”
To the guy that’s been putting out albums for 18 years, the first step for hip-hop to get the respect it deserves is to define it, which he says no one wants to do. But what’s hip-hop to the man widely considered one of the greatest emcees of all times? “Hip-hop is Life Is Good. Hip-hop is Hot 97. Hip-hop is the streets. Hip-hop is a couple of elements that it comes from back in the days…that feel of music with urgency that speaks to you. It speaks to your livelihood and it’s not compromised. It’s blunt. It’s raw, straight off the street– from the beat to the voice to the words.”