When Nas and Jay-Z set aside their feud and joined forces last October, it was a great moment for hip-hop, but an even greater moment for Nas. Having been Columbia's staple rap artist for more than a

When Nas and Jay-Z set aside their feud and joined forces last October, it was a great moment for hip-hop, but an even greater moment for Nas. Having been Columbia's staple rap artist for more than a decade, the acclaimed yet commercially unreliable MC seems poised to reap the benefits of Def Jam's hip-hop savvy.

On his label debut, "Hip-Hop Is Dead ... The N," Nas reflects on the demise of lyricism and passion in hip-hop-once treasured ideals that he thinks many MCs have lost track of. The set is anything but subtle, as the poetic rapper reflects atop tunes crafted by producers like Kanye West ("Still Dreamin' ") and will.i.am ("Can't Forget About You" featuring Chrisette Michelle)."Hip-hop has taken on so many different meanings that we kind of got lost," Nas says. "'Hip-Hop Is Dead' is a happy moment for us to reassess everything."

Assisting Nas are guest rappers like the Game ("QB True G"), Snoop Dogg ("Play On Playa") and, of course, Jay-Z ("Black Republican"). The Jay-Z track was an unplanned collaboration produced by Nas' frequent collaborator L.E.S. On the will.i.am-helmed lead single/title track, Nas rhymes, "Everybody sound the same, commercialize the game/Reminiscin' when it wasn't all business."

But what does Nas mean exactly by the album title? "I say it to cause fear in everyone," he says. "But it's mainly here to inspire. It's about control. Rap music shouldn't have the rules that have been put on it. It's getting exploited and it's not getting the respect or protection that it needs. So many people don't know anything about it, and the majority of them are the artists and the DJs. There are great artists who are friends of mine. No dis to them. They know what time it is. But all the real ones know what I mean by the title. I'm just here to shake up the building."