Nas and Lauryn Hill: A tale of two hip hop legends
Dart Adams | 11/7/2012, 8:12 a.m.
While Hill seemingly reached her artistic peak in 1999, Nas hit a creative low. He released two subpar albums — “I Am” and “Nastradamus.” Both were commercially successful but considered by many hip hop purists the worst efforts of his career.
In July of 2001, Hill resurfaced after a period of reclusiveness to record an acoustic album for MTV Unplugged that quietly went platinum. That same year, Nas emerged a new man thanks to an ongoing and fiery rap battle with hip hop mogul Jay-Z. In December 2001he released his fourth album, “Stillmatic.” The singles “Got Urself A…” and “One Mic,” in addition to “Ether” — a potent diss against Jay-Z, his then-rap enemy — resurrected Nas’ credibility in hip hop circles and his status as a hitmaker in the music industry.
Four years later, Nas and Hill collaborated once again on the 2005 track “It Wasn’t You,” a song originally intended for Nas’ “NASDAQ Dow Jones” project; when the album was scrapped, the song quickly became a mixtape staple after it was leaked to the Internet. That same year, The Fugees flirted with a reunion tour and released the song “Take It Easy” in 2005 after a live performance at “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party.” But the reunion was short-lived and Hill again retreated from the spotlight, while Nas continued to churn out albums, including “Hip Hop Is Dead,” the politically-charged “Untitled” and the 2010 collaboration with Damian Marley, “Distant Relatives.”
Their fan bases and iconic status now cemented, Nas and Hill’s paths crossed again, this time on the festival circuit. After taking part in the 2010 edition of Rock The Bells, they shared the stage at the hip hop festival again in 2011, performing their classic debut albums in their entirety. This past summer they brought their chemistry to New York hip hop station Hot 97’s signature concert Summer Jam, taking the place of headliner Nicki Minaj after she left the concert in protest of her treatment by station jock Peter Rosenberg.
Earlier this year, Nas released his 11th studio album, “Life Is Good,” to critical acclaim and overwhelmingly positive fan response. Following a bitter divorce from singer Kelis, Nas sounded rejuvenated and inspired: His rhymes were focused and his production transported the boom bap aesthetic of “Illmatic” into 2012 with the guidance of production heavy-hitters No I.D. and Salaam Remi. Hill, meanwhile, has regularly performed live over the past calendar year, even in the wake of tax evasion charges levied against her in June. Though her performances have been uneven and at times bizarre, Hill seems to be rediscovering herself as an artist and has hinted at recording new music.
In today’s climate of fickle fans, fly-by-night stars and disposable music, it’s rare for artists to have careers that span years, let alone decades. But nearly 20 years after rising to fame, both Nas and Lauryn Hill still rank among the rap elite and their catalogues are filled with undeniable classics. It’s no surprise the Boston show sold out in a matter of days — seeing two of the genre’s greatest ambassadors share the stage is virtually mandatory for any self-respecting hip hop head.
Nas and Lauryn Hill perform at the House of Blues in Boston this Sunday. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m.