You kids, I swear. No damn respect. Throwing your little "gangster" parties, wearing tinfoil grills and blackface... what shenanigans! What you lil' bastards need is a sense of history, an idea of what came before, so you don't repeat the mistakes of your bum-ass parents. Or maybe just a hot one behind the ear.
But, barring that, the three retakes—that is, the '90s, '80s, and West Coast remixes of Nas's reverent forgotten rapper anthem "Where Are They Now"—will do. After creating a huge buzz and ruffling some sensitive-thug feathers by just titling his album Hip Hop Is Dead, Nas daringly put his money where his mouth is and exhumed the lost rapper crypts to bring his concept to life. All three cram a gaggle of legends and one-hitters alike into a rap-nerd wet dream.
The '90s remix features an FBI-less Redhead Kingpin, Rob Base, the O.G. Spinderella, Father MC, Monie Love, Mike G (Jungle Bros.), EST (3XDope), Positive K, Drayz (Das EFX), DoItAll (Lords of the Underground), Chip Fu (Fu Schnickens) and Dres (Black Sheep).
The '80s version digs deep with MC Shan, Raheem (Furious Five), Doctor Ice & Kangol (UTFO), Kool Moe Dee (Treacherous Three), Sha Rock (Funky Four +1), Tito (Fearless Four), Grandmaster Caz (Cold Crush Bros.), Linque (FKA Isis of X-Clan), Dana Dane, Pebblee Poo (Def Committee), and Just-Ice. And the West Coast remix sports verses MC Breeze (L.A. Posse), Kam, King Tee, Candyman, Threat, Ice-T, Sir Mix-a-Lot, and the Conscious Daughters. Um... WOW. Whether you're the Carhartt-clad "true head" or the extra-marge Pitchfork-hop carpetbagger, it ain't hard to tell that these records were close to ol' Nasty's heart (judging from his giddy ad-libs). How many times has an MC at Nas's level of success collaborated with a bunch of cats who've been on the milk carton for (at least) the last 15 years?
I have to say, the California mix is my very favorite (surprise) partly due to its "Hearts Afire"–jacking, slow and lowriding-ass beat (courtesy of LL's boy DJ Bobcat). Mostly though, it's because the track lacks some of the self-consciousness of the older-school N.Y. MCs (our man Sir Mix is very happy to report he's still making cheese), retaining the West's essential musical spirit of revival.
What's so crucial here is that none of these tracks come off like Nas's Telethon for the Fallen Off. Everybody earns his keep, not a one sounding too throwback—the listener almost can't help but share the Nasir's genuine awe. Slyly subverting his album title's morbid conceit, Nas—one of rap's greatest walking contradictions—revels in hiphop's life, sheepishly admitting that the rumors of its death were greatly exaggerated.
In an era when the whole art form is treated as raw commerce by the both the artists and the industry, when just being a rapper isn't ever good enough, I can't tell you how very good it feels to hear this—a three-part love letter to hiphop that sees past "I Used to Love H.E.R." Color me corny, but it reminds me why I will always love the bitch.