In one of the most highly controversial moves in music 2006, veteran rapper Nasir Jones dug a hole, threw Hip-Hop in a coffin, buried it, and declared the genre deceased. While not everyone agreed with the Queensbridge MC, his album Hip-Hop is Dead served as a pretty convincing epitaph for the genre that was barely recognizable as the fresh, new style of music that had burst onto the scene in the late 70′s/ early 80′s, ever gaining popularity along the way. Nas scolded fans and current artists for forgetting the architects who designed the culture, and for losing vision of what the music was supposed to be.
Half a year later, two Hip-Hop artists have dug up the grave, interrupted the funeral and are claiming that Hip-Hop has some life left in it. What makes these two’s claims stand out from the rest of those in disagreement with Nas, is that these are two of the architects that he is referring to, rather than new generation MC’s who are offended at Nas’ disgust with the current rap scene. Another factor that makes these two artists’ unified opinion so interesting, is that two decades ago, these two were on opposite ends of one of the very first Hip-Hop battles, the battle for where Hip-Hop began, KRS-One, from the South Bronx vs. Marley Marl, (producer for MC Shan), from Queensbridge. Now nearly 20 years later, in a pairing that many would’ve liked to see for years, KRS and Marley have released Hip Hop Lives as a reminder that both are still relevant artists in this genre, and that both can still make damn good music.
After a brief skit to setup the concept of the album, the music kicks off with the title track, where we find Kris in teacher mode, breaking down why Hip-Hop is eternal over Marley’s slow pianos, bursting strings, and record scratches. It sounds refreshing to hear the two at work again, and as both have proven historically, they come correct with the lyrics and the beats on multiple occasions throughout the album, with the album’s peak being the fantastically chilling, and frighteningly true “Kill a Rapper,” where Kris sounds sickened by the disturbing trend of rappers being murdered and no killer being found. As he runs through the staggering list of open murder cases over Marley’s brooding gem of a track, his disgust turns to sarcasm on a hook that bitingly pleads for justice, while exposing the ugly face of law enforcement. Though nothing can match the power and passion of “Kill a Rapper,” the album plays quite nicely with the highlights being the lo-fi bleeps of “Over 30,” the bombastic smack of “The Teacha’s Back,” the biographical “Rising to the Top,” the bouncy “This is What it Is,” and the gritty “All Skool.”
What works for the album is that it makes sense for KRS-One to be the MC reaffirming our faith in the genre. For faithful fans, it seems like he’s been here all along, preaching “Hip-Hop will never die,” from the very beginning. He sounds equally at home pushing uplifting lines about the everlasting nature of Hip-Hop, and flipping scolding disses at those who don’t know where the real Hip-Hop lives. In an equal sense, educated heads know that Marley Marl has continuously proved his resiliency as a producer, crafting classics for essential artists like Big Daddy Kane, and Rakim and breathing life into a stagnant LL Cool J (LL could sure use another Mama Said Knock you Out these days). He is a fabulously gifted beat maker, and he does an excellent job mixing up the production to make tracks that are as interesting and reflective as KRS-One’s lyrics.
The downside of the album, isn’t really the fault of the artist’s at all, and it may end up reaffirming Nas’ point in the first place: the timing of the release just doesn’t appear to be right. The demographic that Hip-Hop music has been marketed to over the years has changed drastically. Most of today’s music listeners who say they enjoy Rap and/or Hip-Hop are defining the genre by disposable radio hits like “Party Like a Rock Star” and “This is Why I’m Hot.” These fans probably couldn’t even spell Boogie Down Productions, or even begin to name a member of the Juice Crew, so it is a bit of a stretch to think that they will be checking for an album by KRS and Marley, which is a tragedy in itself, but one that both artists probably knew of before going into this project.
Had this album been released three years after the South Bronx/Queensbridge feud, just before Hip-Hop went gangsta, then blinged-out, then both, it could’ve been heralded as a classic and perhaps set a different course for the genre altogether, but alas, as a new album, it serves more as a reminder to the faithful fans of the genre that there will always be at least a part of Hip-Hop that lives on as long as there are artists like KRS-One and Marley Marl who care about the true power of the genre. Maybe it won’t sell records, but it just might be enough to convince the concerned fans that Hip-Hop isn’t lying 6 feet under where Nas buried it.
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