Nas believes 'The N' can be new start for hip-hop

ImageWhen Nas and Jay-Z set aside their feud and joined forces last year, it was a great moment for hip-hop, but an even greater moment for Nas.

Having been a staple rap artist for more than a decade, the acclaimed yet commercially unreliable MC seemed poised to reap the benefits of his new, hip-hop-savvy label, Def Jam.

But then Jay-Z opted to rise out of retirement with ''Kingdom Come,'' which sold 680,000 units in the biggest sales week ever for the rapper -- who's also president of Def Jam.

Concerns have risen that the heavily hyped ''Kingdom Come'' could put a damper on Nas' equally anticipated Def Jam debut ''Hip-Hop Is Dead ... The N,'' due Tuesday. But while labelmates Method Man and LL Cool J have publicly decried Jay-Z's apparent preferential treatment, Nas has no gripes.

''This was the plan,'' the native New Yorker says. ''All the things that are happening are what me and Jay said would happen. A lot of people are coming down on him, but people just need to get used to rappers in these [executive] positions.''

End of longtime rivalry
The deal took shape after the once sworn enemies ended their longtime rivalry at a New Jersey radio promo concert in October 2005. Three months later, Nas signed a four-album deal with Def Jam.

''The basic reason that me and Jay came together, besides a respect for each other, is because it felt like it was needed,'' Nas says. ''A lot of elements of the game are dead.''

Nas' seven studio albums on Columbia have sold a combined 11.4 million units in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, the most recent of which, 2004's ''Street's Disciple,'' has shifted 700,000. But many of them have come and gone with little fanfare.

''Some of my earlier albums could have sold more,'' he says. ''If I was at a label that was more hip-hop oriented, like Interscope or Def Jam, I would've sold double what I sold, but at the same time, I definitely am still happy with what I sold.''

International tour on horizon
On the new album Nas reflects on the demise of lyricism and passion in hip-hop -- ideals that he thinks many MCs have lost track of. The set is anything but subtle, as the poetic rapper reflects atop tunes crafted by producers Kanye West ("Still Dreamin' ") and Will.i.am ("Can't Forget About You'' featuring Chrisette Michelle).

''Hip-hop has taken on so many different meanings that we kind of got lost,'' Nas says. '' 'Hip-Hop Is Dead' is a happy moment for us to reassess everything.''

On the Will.i.am-helmed title track, Nas rhymes, ''Everybody sound the same, commercialize the game/Reminiscin' when it wasn't all business.''

Assisting Nas are guest rappers like the Game, Snoop Dogg and, of course, Jay-Z ("Black Republican'').

After a four-year touring hiatus, Nas will hit the road next year in the United States, followed by his first international outing. ''I've never gone global with it,'' he says. ''It's not fair to so many people in Africa and Australia ... not to go there where I get so many requests.''

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