For those of you just joining us, let’s recap the previous few weeks. I gave the slight edge to Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 2 over Nas’ God’s Son. In the rematch of their previous albums, Jay-Z came correct with a solid, but unspectacular effort on The Blueprint.
That brings us to Nasir Jones’ 2001 joint, Stillmatic. It was one of the most highly anticipated hip hop albums in some time. Mostly because fans were eager to hear what rebuttal Nas would have for Jay-Z’s Takeover track. Nas didn’t disappoint, as he responded by absolutely destroying Jigga on the venomous Ether. Nas pulls Jay-Z’s card on everything from his misogynistic lyrics, to his controversial (alleged) stabbing of a record executive, to his uncanny resemblance to 1970’s pop icon Jimmie Walker. It’s easily one of the top five diss tracks ever spit.
Fortunately, Nas doesn’t dwell on beef throughout the album. It had been over a half dozen years since the classic Illmatic album and there were many in the game who weren’t feeling Nas any longer. So what’s a lyricist to do? He re-introduces himself to the world on the title track (“I crawled up outta that grave/wiping the dirt/cleaning my shirt”) and proves that reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated.
Stillmatic produced a pair of excellent singles that are still getting good rotation on radio and television. Got Ur Self Aâ€¦ showcases a Nas sound that is completely re-energized and vibrant. It borrows from a popular Alabama 3 track and smolders with understated bravado. On the other end of the spectrum is the haunting One Mic. Even some of the bitter and jaded writers here on 411 were drawn to this tale of the road less traveled out of (and ultimately, back to) the hood. Nas’ flow and the production build to a perfectly matched crescendo with each verse.
Equally brilliant is Rewind. Unlike the quirky concept joint Book of Rhymes from his most recent album, this one succeeds in every way. Simply put, it’s a song in reverse, from end to beginning. While the subject matter has been told a million times before, it never been done like this. I guarantee you’ll catch things you missed on each subsequent listening.
Mr. Jones carries even some of the album’s weaker moments to listenable tracks. Rule is hindered by a familiar pop sample and a corny hook, but Nas’ flow is solid and his hood life by way of his world view offers a perspective rarely heard in commercial rap. On My Country, Nas inexplicably shares the mic, when he should have been rocking this track by his damn self. His commentary (and untouchable flow) on the American prison system and the U.S. military is highbrow stuff for any genre.
On What Goes Around, Nas covers anything and everything he failed to address in the previous 12 tracks. In less than five minutes, Nas speaks on the ills of fast food and drugs. He addresses abortions and AIDS. He rants on George Bush, the first Thanksgiving, liposuction and television. Most importantly, he does it all magnificently.
With all that praise, you’d think we’d be looking at a “perfect” album and my first ever review rating of “10”, right? Wellâ€¦no. Even Nas can’t save the really bad tracks. Second Childhood has it’s heart in the right place, but it’s a slow and meandering ride. The Flyest is just ok and isn’t helped by a weak AZ cameo or it’s sorry hook.