Roll down the windows on a summer Saturday and ride down New York's Broadway from the Bronx, where hip-hop was created, through Harlem and the Village, where it's criticized and consumed, and down to Wall Street, where hit singles turn into big dollars for the companies that market it. You'll find out who is the Man of the moment. As vibrantly urban a street as exists in America, Broadway insists on being up-to-the-minute hip. At the sound of the tone the Man will be Wu-Tang Clan. Bong.
remains as hot as August concrete and Doggystyle
as cold as ice meaning that Dre and Snoop will not be returning as the Man. But the race ain't over, as a horde of major albums have recently been released or are slated for the last half of '94: Ice Cube and Dr. Dre's Helter Skelter
, Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth's The Main Ingredients
, Coolio's It Takes a Thief
and Shyheim's AKA the Rugged Child
, as well as albums from Smif n' Wessun, Redman, 2Pac, the Lady of Rage, the Method Man, Rakim and a solo album by A Tribe Called Quest's Phife. But they'll all be chasing the MC with a street buzz so loud it's threatening to silence the Death Row bass thump on Broadway: Nas.
The humming began once the hottest producers in New York DJ Premier, Pete Rock, the Large Professor, Q-Tip, L.E.S. completed their parts on Illmatic, and Nas stepped to their tracks (many smooth and mellow, a few hard and biting, all mid- to low-tempo) and vaulted himself into the elite group of MCs. Not because of an ultrabutter flow and boldly distinctive voice like Q-Tip or Slick Rick but because of sharp articulation, finely detailed lyrics and a controlled tone reminiscent of Rakim. Those sounds and Nas' no-nonsense urban tales pair Ill's every beautiful moment with its harsh antithesis. From "One Love," Nas' letter to homies in jail "So, stay civilized/Time flies/Though, incarcerated, your mind dies/I hate it when your moms cries/It kinda makes me wanna murder" to the end of "Life's a Bitch," when his father, Olu Dara, steps in over the beat with a muted trumpet, searching for the tone with which Nas expressed the futility of his life, it's all like a rose stretching up between cracks in the sidewalk, calling attention to its beauty, calling attention to the lack of it everywhere else.
If it's a butter flow you crave while cruising for daisy dukes this summer, Shyheim is your man, even though he's only 15. For kids in hip-hop, like women, it's nearly impossible to become the Man, because if you don't sound like a man, you can't be Him. Shyheim tries to bolster his credentials by announcing often on AKA that he's down with Wu-Tang, but the Method Man and Ol' Dirty Bastard don't rhyme on the album, so who cares? Shy is a kiddie rapper with an erratic album and a childish tone, making him sound like a novelty whose notoriety stems