14. The Firm f/ AZ, Nas & Nature "Phone Tap" (1997)
Producer: Dr. Dre, Chris Taylor
Album: The Album
Label: Aftermath, Interscope, MCA
Of the many techniques that Dre used to disconnect from his Death Row past, his most audacious might have been collaborating with The Firm on their first and only full-length in 1997. After all, Foxy Brown, AZ, Nature and Nas symbolized the East Coast establishment that Death Row had persecuted only a few years earlier. But by late 1997 hip-hop had entered a new epoch.
2Pac and Biggie were dead and the dueling coasts had begun a mutual assimilation of would become the dominant paradigm of late 1990s rap: Corporate prosperity. "Phone Tap" perfectly illustrates the luxurious criminal aesthetic the Firm was after. The beat, however, could never be mistaken for the work of an East Coast mind. While impressively stealthy, there is too much tilt to its thump, and too much blues in those keyboards that bleed through the cracks.