Hip Hop is Dead? Some thoughts on Friday’s Nas show at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
Back in 2006 Nas (@Nas), one of hip hop’s greats was the subject of much controversy when he released the album Hip Hop is Dead. Many rappers, especially from the South, were offended by the title. They interpreted the meaning as a shot towards their rising popularity and dominance of the genre of music. Nas went on to explain that the title had various meanings including, 1) to stir up excitement and discussions about the current and future of the genre/culture, and 2) to describe the lack of power that artists had at the time.
When I arrived at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom on Friday evening, I was listening to an extensive Nas playlist that I made that morning. As I was about to give my ticket to the ticket handler, the song “Carry On Tradition” from the earlier mentioned album started playing. I looked around at the other people at the venue and reflected on where rap music was at; 6 years after he challenged the rap world to reflect. I saw an assortment of people, from young people who were probably at their first concert to couples who appeared to be in their mid to late 40’s. The merchandise counter was covered with local and new artists trying to market their brand. Artist Justin Bua (@JustinBUA) of New York City painted as he was inspired by the different performing acts. There was even an Austin based band, Black Pistol Fire (@BlackPistolFire), delivering a punch-in-the-face brand of music that reminded me of the southern equivalent of Black Keys or White Stripes. To say that an “event” was happening does not give the night justice. I was watching a “resurrection” of artist independence. The state of rap and the independent artist has reached new peaks. When Nas said hip hop is dead, he challenged performers to not just ‘try to get signed’ or put out records that your label wants you to make. He wanted people to take charge of their creative direction. He knew the preservation of hip hop is dependent upon the individual being able to make their brand and share it as they decide to.
Nas often refers to himself as a hip-hop prophet. Even if you aren’t a fan of his, take a look at who’s on top of the genre: Jay-Z and RocNation, Kanye West and GOOD Music, Eminem, Rick Ross and MMG, Kendrick Lamar and TDE, ASAP Rocky and the ASAP Mob, Tyler the Creator and Odd Future. “The Culture”, as Kanye eloquently put it during a recent BBC interview, is being primarily influenced by artists taking control of their path. Friday’s show displayed the same behaviors. Justin Bua, Sol, Black Pistol Fire, Dillon Cooper, Sol, and the other acts each used Friday night as another step toward their future, whatever that phrase means for them.
Nas performed the majority of his major hits, including “Made You Look”, “If I Ruled the World”, “One Mic”, and “Got Yourself a Gun”. His stage presence and bravado is undeniable. Even if you don’t aspire to be a rap icon take notes from Nas: Be yourself, only compromising for beneficial evolution, unafraid to challenge today to ensure a better tomorrow.