Last round, Blondie safely navigated past Hollis, Queens icons Run-DMC and the trio’s aggressive, raw rap sound. This time, the Debbie Harry-fronted new wave ensemble faces off against Nas, hip-hop’s one-time prodigal son turned full-time Bill O’Reilly antagonizer. Will the quasi-rap stylings of Blondie’s “Rapture” prove to be the key weapon in the group’s arsenal against Nas’s single-genre steez?
Nas: “Made You Look”
Illmatic is sacrosanct, and almost any of its songs showcase young Nasir’s pure and genius ability at rhyming, but “Made You Look” is more indicative of his long-term career, being a sparky first single that preceded an ultimately disappointing album. It’s premium Nas spitting heat over a raw, break-beat-based track, and flitting between coarse boasts and rap nerdery (“Rooftop like we bringing ’88 back,” he says with a glint of golden era nostalgia in his eye). Although he then scuppers things by attempting to coin the new micro-genre “street-hop.” Doh!
“Heart Of Glass” is an infectious, disco-dashed lament and “Atomic” has a poppy bombast, but if Blondie is going up against a rapper then it’s time to roll out “Rapture.” A cross-genre, cross-scene snapshot of downtown New York in the early-’80s, it helped showcase hip-hop—including graffiti!—to the masses. It also pumps along with a darn fine bounce and groove. And accepted, Ms. Harry’s rhyme is gibberish—but have you attempted to try and fathom anything Nas has rapped in the last five years? Shudder!
Longevity: Well, Nas is still hanging around. He still makes albums. People still pay him to be a guest rapper on their songs. These are presumably good things for his career. Blondie’s reformation after their post-’80s hiatus wasn’t propelled on the same hip chic as the band’s early days, but they’re still touring and recording. Perhaps it boils down to this: Was “Maria” a better comeback song than “The Don”?
Innovations: Nas helped innovate the idea of marrying a loud, screaming R&B chick and then getting divorced. That, and his long-disbanded “street-hop” movement (see above). While his best work, Illmatic, is an end-of-an-era statement—soon after its release the productions of hometown staples Pete Rock, DJ Premier and Large Professor dropped out of vogue—Blondie were integral in innovating the new wave movement.
Starpower: Is Nas famous? Probably. But let’s be honest: If you’ve just franchised a new C-Town and you’re hoping to convey some prestige and pizazz about its expanded organic food section, you’ll want to put in a call to Debbie Harry’s people, not the grumpy Queensbridge kid, for the opening ceremony.
Intangibles: Debbie Harry and Chris Stein respectively appeared in and helped record the soundtrack to hip-hop flick Wild Style—which Nas then sampled on Illmatic.
Likely winner: Despite a few friendly barbs in Nas’s direction, this one could absolutely positively go either way.