Nas said he's less than two weeks from finishing his next LP, Hip-Hop Is Dead ... The N (due on December 19), and he already has a prediction.
"All respect to all rappers on Def Jam, I love the label," Nas said. "Without disrespect, I'm about to be the craziest sh-- on Def Jam. But that should go without saying."
Nas has a lot to boast about this time around. After his last project, the 2004 double LP Street's Disciple, had a lukewarm reception, the New York legend feels confident he has another classic on his hands.
MTV News had a chance to preview some tracks last week — and to dispel some rumors, Nas is not leaving his roots. His LP is very much street, and there aren't really any commercial tracks. Lyrically he still commands the vocal booth.
A bulk of his criticism the last few years has been his choice of beat selection. On Hip-Hop Is Dead, he worked with the best, including Dr. Dre, Just Blaze, Kanye West and others. You can hear the excitement in the producers' music — they've given him top-grade material.
"It's cool," Nas said Monday about working with Dre on "QB True G," which features a guest appearance from the Game. "I worked on Dre's  Aftermath album when he left Death Row. The second Aftermath album was [intended to be] the Firm album. I think him and [industry mogul] Steve Stoute got into a lot of beef, so the record got hurt when it came out. But that album is still a platinum monster. I know Dre was saying that n---as was bothering him, saying the Firm flopped or he turned pop, but that Firm album was not a flop. That record was a monster. Back then, [Interscope Records co-chairman] Jimmy Iovine was ready to send me a jet, trying to get me off of Sony because he was seeing my potential and what I needed to do.
"Since then, I hadn't seen [Dre], but I bumped into him in a studio and he said he was ready to do my whole album right there on the spot," Nas continued. "I just knocked out the joint I did with him."
The beat has the feel of the dark party track Dre gave 50 Cent for the "Outta Control" remix, but it has a bit more bite. Nas raps on the beat that he and the Game came to "sprinkle a little bit of heaven for your ears." The Game starts his verse by rapping that over a decade ago, he was a kid in a record store and had to decide whether to buy Nas' Illmatic or Dre's The Chronic because he only had money for one purchase. He decided to steal both albums.
"Game is a megastar, man," said Nas, who appears on the Game's upcoming The Doctor's Advocate. "That n---a shut down a whole crew by himself. That's big."
Kanye West raps on and produced "Still Dreamin'." Nas starts one verse scolding hangers-on who are looking for handouts, and on his second verse, he tells a story of a female newscaster who gets caught up in a drug dealer's lifestyle.
" 'Ye is that n---a," Nas told. "His music is right. I wish I could've got more time in with him, actually. He comes through. N---as just be kicking it. Next thing you know, he plays me his sh-- he's working on, I play my sh--, then it comes from there. He'll play me some sh--, and I'll say, 'Let me get that.' "
The song "Blunt Ashes," where Nas talks about the missteps and betrayals of R&B legends like Prince, Alexander O'Neal and Bobby Womack, came about from the wordsmith just kicking it in the lab with another one of his friends, Philadelphia 76ers forward Chris Webber. Webber produced the track.
"We was in the studio in Kelis' session," Nas said about working with his wife. "We had a room next door, because I didn't want to mess her session up, but I wanted to listen to something. I went in the other room, we was chillin'. One of my mans told Chris to put on one of his [beat] CDs. We was in there freestylin'. I started freestylin' to one joint about sh-- we just be talking about, and I was like, 'This is my sh-- right here. This is my joint.' But Chris is my homie though. One of my closest homies."
Another person you wouldn't necessarily picture on a Nas record is Will.I.Am. The multitalented Black Eyed Peas frontman concocted the LP's title track. Where some may expect a real pop sound like on Busta Rhymes' "I Love My Chick," Will went left and very dirty. He actually brought back the same bassline from Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," which was also used for Street Disciple's "Thief's Theme."
"It felt like the 'Thief's Theme' to me," Nas said. "It was one of the low-key Nas joints that you know about it, but you don't want to look over there. You don't want to deal with that. This [song] reiterated the vibe of 'Thief's Theme' at another level. The title track is Will.I.Am taking pieces of sh-- I did before, pieces of old-school hip-hop, slappin' it all together and letting me do me. That's what it is."
Nas throws out a few punch lines on the album, including "If hip-hop is dead, we die together" and "Like my girl Foxy, a n---a went Def." His lyrics are also very tough on radio and DJs. Nas says on the disc that if the impossible happened, if hip-hop did die, DJs would be the first people he'd punish.
"Let's be real," he said of the song on which he insists his wedding to Kelis was his second marriage — he married hip-hop first. "DJs play a big responsibility of what hip-hop is doing. ... At the end of the day, it's up to us to control and to own hip-hop. DJs need to challenge us rappers. They got so much power, they need to challenge us. We don't challenge DJs by making enough crazy sh--."
Nas also said that the phrase "hip-hop is dead" has a much more important meaning than just music.
"When I say 'hip-hop is dead,' basically America is dead," he clarified. "There is no political voice. Music is dead. B2K is not New Edition. Chris Brown is great, I love Chris Brown, we need that, but Bobby Brown sticks in my heart. Our way of thinking is dead, our commerce is dead. Everything in this society has been done. It's like a slingshot, where you throw the mutha----a back and it starts losing speed and is about to fall down. That's where we are as a country.
"I don't wanna lose nobody with this, but what I mean by 'hip-hop is dead' is we're at a vulnerable state," he continued. "If we don't change, we gonna disappear like Rome. Let's break it down to a smaller situation. Hip-hop is Rome for the 'hood. I think hip-hop could help rebuild America, once hip-hoppers own hip-hop. ... We are our own politicians, our own government, we have something to say. We're warriors. Soldiers."
Snoop Dogg appears on the Scott Storch-produced "Play on Playa." "Unforgettable," which uses a sample of the Nat King Cole song of the same name, has Nas looking back on his life ("Mom's cooking used to wake me up/ Deep/ 'Cause now my wife's cookin' puts me to sleep"). "War" finds the legend going political, lashing out against what he calls unfair media views and "the white man's paper." Damien "Jr. Gong" Marley co-stars on that reggae-flavored track.
Nas hasn't yet chosen a first single for Hip-Hop Is Dead, but said he's leaning toward going with a real street record first, like the Game did with "It's Okay (One Blood)."
"Every n---a under the age of 28 that raps — except for maybe five of you — needs to shut the f--- up for eight months," he said about what some of his peers should do in preparation for this album. "Get your mind right and learn what the f--- to say. That's gonna be a wakeup call. With all respect due, because they're my comrades."