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Nas 

Hip Hop Is Dead (Def Jam)

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As with 2004's "Thief's Theme," the title track to Nas' eighth disc is built around a sample of "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida." But "Hip Hop Is Dead" also resurrects something else: a theme that's been floating around since the '90s. Back then, some argued Nas was not only squandering his talent, but actually killing hip hop with such platinum duds as Nastradamus.

By his last album, 2004's Street's Disciple, Nas had won back some credibility, yet his own career was in critical condition. And as a result, he has buried his beef with Jay-Z in hopes that Jigga's label can give Hip Hop Is Dead a commercial boost. It should work, since Kanye, Dr. Dre, and will.i.am all produced tracks, one of which — "Can't Forget About You" — makes a pretty memorable flip of the standard "Unforgettable."

Still, this isn't the album Nas should've made. "Black Republican," his long-awaited duet with Hov, buries some great lines beneath messy production, while the Game, who guests on "QG Tru G," still doesn't belong on the same wax as the Big Apple legend. Nas' problems (as well as hip hop's) remain artistic, not commercial, and can't be solved by sheer star power. Until that misconception is resolved, the occasionally brilliant eulogy is the best we can expect from the guy. — Dan LeRoy

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