On his latest effort, Hip-Hop Is Dead, Nas performs an autopsy on rap's corpse, and the results are ugly: Toothless rap pioneers-turned-crackheads and one-hit wonders who have no sense of history populate hip-hop's wasteland. By contemplating the demise of an art form that he fell in love with as a youngster growing up in the Queensbridge projects, Nas has produced a tome worthy of his classic debut, Illmatic. Continuing the creative resurgence that began in 2001, after Jay-Z knocked him out of complacency with the ultimate dis record, The Takeover, Nasir Jones has evolved into one of the game's elder statesmen, a gatekeeper for a genre he feels has sold its soul. (Recently, the two NYC rivals squashed their beefs by performing "Dead Presidents" on stage together, and Nas now records for the Jay-Z-helmed Def Jam.) Nas's recent dissertation, full of vivid images and ideas, shows why the self-proclaimed "God's Son" deserves the honorary title of hip-hop poet laureate.