The whole concept behind Nas' album Hip Hop Is Dead set off a bunch of reactions and debates in the hip hop world and pissed off alot of artists like Young Jeezy.
I've come to the conclusion that hip hop is what it is depending on what people are looking for and where they are looking. Hip hop is dead if your only sources for it are mainstream radio, BET and VH1 reality shows.
The mainstream hip hop which they are talking about the same old stuff is what is pushed by major corporations. For other types of hip hop music you might want to try a site I always promote, EMUSIC.
Here is a list of my personal favorites from that site:
My personal favorite is "The Death of Willie Lynch" by Black Ice. Black Ice is part spoken word artist, part MC. On songs such as "The Ugly Show" and "Take Ya Time" (ft. Musiq Soulchild), Black Ice mixes social commentary with real street stuff. On "Take Ya Time", Black Ice raps about how women should wait for having sex, and on the Ugly Show, Black raps about the whole New Orleans/Katrina fiasco. Who says that rap can't be positive?
This great album by Jay Dee aka J Dilla was a compilation of the passing producers unreleased joints. It does sound dated, but this should be getting more radio play still. This record has real hip hop jams like EMC2 with Common. Most of it will sound like the sound of the 90's. They even have D Angelo on this album, and it sounds so new.
The essence of hip hop is the freestyle and for those who like freestyles you all should check out 4ourty 4our Freestyles, a collection of some hot freestyles by artists capable of doing it. The best freestyles were by Canibus and Supernatural.
I don't expect radio to play MF Grimm, but with such songs as American Hunger, he addresses issues related to black youth and how they are affected by racism. He seems real popular with backpackers and young white lefties, but he is the embodiment of anti-corporate, straight up NYC street rap, but he can still talk to a more broader audience than Saigon or Papoose.
Akir to me is a hot MC that reminds me alot of Talib Kweli. On his record called Legacy, He has many radio songs or songs that could be hits, but he's just too real, and he can actually rap unlike the artists on the radio and he raps about real stuff you can relate to.
I've gotta give props to M1 of Dead Prez for putting out a solid record, Confidential! Check out the song "Dont Put Down Your Flag". For obvious reasons, you wont hear him on the radio! But it is more than worth hearing.
I know many people have a problem with the Holy Hip Hop movement, also known as Christian rap or gospel rap. People say that its fake, and that religion and rap cant mix. However, with MCs like R Swift (Revolutionary Theme Music) and Rob Hodge (Born King), it's getting harder to ignore the HHH movement! Pigeon John is thought by some to be more or less a Christian rapper, but I think that he's been doing what Lupe Fiasco is trying to do now. He's a hot MC, he's talented, very laid back, but no radio airplay! Check out "Welcome to the Show".
Another movement in rap is the Chicano rap movement. The Mexican rappers of Los Angeles and San Diego are practically taking over and picking up where Death Row records left off. The formula is simple; the textbook is Dr Dre's "The Chronic", the godfathers are Frost (formely Kid Frost) and Mellow Man Ace (the first Latino rapper with a hit) and the innovators are Jay Tee of N2Deep and Cypress Hill. Two impressive MCs in this are Shadow (Hustle by Blood) and Wicked (formely of Eazy E's Latino supergroup Brownside) (One Out of Many). Check out their records for some Cali livin'.
My personal favorite is the album by the group 40 Watt Hype (Strong Feet On Concrete). This truly impressive Latino/salsa/hip hop/funk group put out a brilliant album. This genre bending, innovative album is just too good for radio.
In conclusion, I like what Nas is saying, but its not so much that hip hop is dead as it is that nobody is buying real hip hop, but its available! The limited exposure that real artists get is the real problem, and points to bigger issues that are bigger than hip hop itself.