NEW YORK — Nas seemed to suffer momentarily lapses in focus during his 45-minute set at Manhattan's Webster Hall Monday night. He fumbled through a few lines while performing the show — dubbed a "secret concert" for Hot 97 contest winners — but still managed to come through in the clutch during his money records like "Made You Look" and his current single, "Hip Hop Is Dead."
Maybe he was thinking about Tuesday morning, when his highly talked-about and anticipated Hip Hop Is Dead — replete with its controversial title — would finally hit stores. Or maybe he was a little preoccupied thinking about the night as a whole. After his performance, he would head to Gin Lane for an intimate dinner hosted by Hennessy Paradis and attended by his family — including wife Kelis, daughter Destiny, brother Jungle and father Olu Dara — and an assortment of friends from the industry.
Inside the restaurant, everyone played dress-up in suits, gowns and sexy dresses. Kelis looked like she'd walked right off of a magazine cover and was headed to a presidential ball as a speaker projected Dean Martin singing "That's Amore" in the background. Hey Nas, we know you said hip-hop is dead, but what happened to some good old-fashioned R&B as a substitute?
Just as Dean's song faded out, Nas' music came up, and for the next hour D-Nice spun a musical back and forth between old Esco classics like "The World Is Yours" and Rat Pack greatest hits. The mood, with everybody grown and sexy and swilling specialty drinks from the open bar, was a sort of flashback to when the rapper went under his alias, Nas Escobar, with the Firm.
About an hour into the event, Esco himself showed up in the flesh, wearing a black-and-red dinner jacket. He walked in and made his way down the dinner table (several feet in length) to kiss his wife. Soon after, it was photo ops galore: Philadelphia 76er Chris Webber came in dressed in an all-black suit, and Mark Wahlberg followed behind. After dinner, which included fish and filet mignon, Nas and Kelis took a Maybach over to Capitale, where it was time for the full-on album release party.
Chamillionaire pulled up to the door of the venue in an SUV while Papoose stood outside, getting ready to make his way onto the black carpet.
"I'm here to pay homage to a living legend, period," Pap said later on, before entering the party. "Nas has been putting it down consistently for years. 'Hip-hop is dead' is definitely a true cause, I understand what he's saying. He broke down the concept of where real people who love hip-hop don't got have ownership — it's an actual fact. When you first ask someone if hip-hop is dead, their first reaction is gonna be, 'No.' But they not taking out the time to hear where the God is coming from. I understand where he's coming from and I respect the concept. That's what it is."
Inside Capitale, the likes of Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, Spike Lee and Omarion chilled in the VIP area while Ja Rule, Irv Gotti, AZ and Big Daddy Kane mingled with the crowd. In the entranceway, wall-size photos of Nas adorned the walls, while a casket with roses on top rested against one of the sides. The DJ spun some hip-hop classics while a woman played the violin onstage and a man beat the drums on the dance floor. The partygoers actually shed their cool and danced, and there was even a photo booth — similar to the "TRL" star booth — for anybody who wanted to flick it up for the occasion. The line did get a little lengthy at points though, with some waiting 20 minutes to say cheese.
Nas took to the stage, thanking everyone for coming and elaborating on his "hip-hop is dead" stance.
"There's confusion in the game," he said. "I think all y'all agree with me because you came out to see what's going on. ... Hip-hop is dead because we don't own it. ... We make the music but no one is in a position of power to protect it. It's up to us to bring it back alive."
As the night continued, Nas passed the mic to some of the golden-era greats, like Monie Love, Melle Mel and Kane.
"I'm really proud of Nas and I wish him the utmost respect," said Kane, who performed snippets of his hits like "Warm It Up, Kane." Melle Mel followed with The Message"; later, a song the absent KRS-One recorded specifically to salute God's Son was unveiled.
"I couldn't make the set, so I sent these 16s as a sign of respect," the Blastmaster said in one of his lines.
Whether or not you agree with Nas' assertion on the state of hip-hop, legendary spinner DJ Red Alert said the Queensbridge rap legend is doing his part to keep it alive. "Nights like this take hip-hop to the next level, the next height of where hip-hop is. This is to the highest degree of what hip-hop stands for."