I’ve never been that big a fan of will.i.am to begin with, so he never really has to do a lot to impress me. When it comes to Nas, though, it’s a much different story. The gifted rhymer had been jumping in and out of my good graces for almost a decade and a half by the time “Hip-Hop is Dead” came out in 2006. His prior album, “Street’s Disciple”, still stands as one of the albums I’ve been most disappointed by in my music-listening life.
I wasn’t expecting “Dead” to even be a good album, so imagine my surprise when it turned out to be (after “Illmatic”, of course), the most solid album of Nas’s career. A renewed focus on rhyming on the part of the artist certainly helped, as did a general theme to the album. “Dead” also boasted some of the best production Nas has had on an album since his debut. The then Hova-led Def Jam rolled out the red carpet for their latest signing, allowing him to collaborate with boardsmen who were sympathetic to Nas’s sound (like his old homie L.E.S.) as well as a couple of newer producers (like Kanye West). Will produced three of the album’s more notable songs-the fiery title track, the imaginative murder-mystery spoof “Who Killed It” and the sweetly nostalgic “Can’t Forget About You”. The two appeared to have quite a bit of chemistry, so it’s a mystery as to why the two haven’t collaborated since. However, maybe the fact that Nas’s ex-wife Kelis’s last album came out on will.i.am’s label truly tells the story.