Let me first apologize for last week’s column. I guess it came off as kind of “down.” It wasn’t meant to be. It was more “earnest” than “depressing.” Sorry for the confusion, and thanks to everyone who offered me a shoulder to cry on.
I dig Nas.
Out of all the albums that helped put the East Coast back atop the Hip Hop chain Illmatic was my favorite. Enta Da Stage was ill. 36 Chambers was different. And I’ll openly admit that Ready to Die isn’t one of my favorite debuts. But Illmatic made me listen. It grabbed my attention and never let go.
To my ears, Illmatic is perfection. It’s flawless. But more than flawless, it’s pure. And purity is a rare thing in Hip Hop.
The bad thing about having a debut like Illmatic is that it’s hard not to disappoint everyone with your follow up.
It Was Written was perhaps the most anticipated and scrutinized sophomore album Hip Hop has produced. Even today people still argue about whether or not it was a suitable follow up to a classic.
I remember watching The Box and seeing the video for If I Ruled The World. I was both elated and downtrodden. I was pumped because a new Nas album was around the corner, but I was skeptical because I was not feeling the single.
The basic consensus about It Was Written is that its cool”¦but it’s not Illmatic. Which is to say, if another MC had put out the album it’d be hailed as great, but since it followed up a classic album, to most, something seems off.
The Cracks Begin To Show
But clearly It Was Written showed the first signs of a weakness within Nas. Whereas Illmatic sounded classic, It Was Written sounded contemporary. There were classic joints there (Black Girl Lost, Take It In Blood, The Message), but there were also a couple of skip-worthy songs too (Nas is Coming.
Now as much as I love Nas, I’ll readily admit I have some qualms with brother. My first major problem with him is his need to follow trends. I can’t say why It Was Written had a more contemporary/commercial sound, but I can guess.
Nas’ closest rival, in a lyrical sense, Notorious B.I.G.’s debut had a huge impact, and was also a commercial success. Now perhaps Nas wanted to taste that success, and altered things a bit to make it more palpable for the market place. But that’s just a guess.
Regardless of the rationale, Nas now appeared to be a follower. He fully adopted the Mafioso fad that had engulfed Hip Hop. Sadly, Nas Escobar was born. And Esco begat The Firm, perhaps one of the most detrimental “concept” albums ever. (But, yes Nick, Phone Tap was a good song.) Can an album that boasts the logos of seven different record labels and managements companies really be that good?
My second problem with Nas was his selection of beats. No matter how talented the lyricist is (cough)Eminem(cough), if the beats are wack the equation isn’t balanced.
Nas’ third and forth albums, I Am and Nastradamus, suffer from really bad beats. Lyrically both albums solid, but beat-wise it’s tough to sit through. Even his tribute to Tupac and Biggie is almost crippled by a corny beat.
It’s equally painful to listen to Nas try out his “down South” flow. It’s passable, but you can almost hear Nas saying, “Pay attention to me! I can be versatile too!” It’s like seeing the guy you looked up to in High School, working at a convenience store.
Nas’ main strengths lie in his lyricism and storytelling. As with his first two albums both I Am and Nastradamus contain gems in both categories.
The former has We Will Survive which is a reinterpretation of One Love that has Nas writing to Tupac and Biggie. It’s poignant and not exploitative, which is rare considering the subjects. It also features Undying Love a gripping story about infidelity and it’s unfortunate end.
Nastradamus contains Last Words where Nas rhyme from the perspective of a prison cell. As odd as it sounds, he pulls it off. It also has Life We Chose in where Nas spits some rather raw lyrics.
The hardcore fan’s response to Nas’ last two albums was lukewarm. But this time Jay-Z had inherited Biggies crown as “King of New York” and Nas fans were growing impatient with waiting for the next Illmatic. I’ll even admit that I had lost faith in Nas.
That’s a “One Hot Album Every Ten Year” Average.
In 2001 at Hot 97’s Summer Jam, Jay-Z debuted the first two verses of Takeover. He ended with the line “as Nas, he don’t want it with Hov. Nooo!” This was big.
After tossing darts back and forth, mainly between Nas and Memphis Bleek, Jay-Z had fired a salvo directly at Nas.
Nas responded with the mixtape banger Stillmatic which included the following lyrics
Rip the FREEWAY, shoot through MEMPHIS with moneybags
Stop in Philly, order cheese steaks and eat BEANS fast
And bring it back up top, remove the fake king of New York
You show off, I count dough off when you sample my voice
I rule you, before; you used to rap like the FU-SHNICKENS
NAS designed your BLUEPRINT, who you kidding?
Is he H TO THE IZZO, M TO THE IZZO?
For shizzle you phony, the rapping version of SISQO
And that’s for certain; you clone me, your wack clothes line
I’d rather Sean John, bore me with your fake coke rhymes
And those times, they never took place, you liar
UN was your first court case, you had no priors
You master fabricated stories of streets and sound slick
Have you surrounded, you and the f@gg0ts you down with
While they riding NAS, trying to boost their careers
Corny as CORMEGA, all you Hip-Hop queers
Since ILLMATIC, IT WAS WRITTEN: I AM…NASTRADAMUS
That’s the answers to the puzzle I gave you, now here’s a promise
My next few albums, instead of projects,
They’ll be a difficult test inside the cover for the minds
When my best friend and I heard this, we were pumped. Nas had returned. The Nas that spit that fire was the Nas from Illmatic. On one simple freestyle Nas had reaffirmed my faith in him.
Of course when Jay-Z’s The Blueprint dropped Takeover had a verse devoted to Nas. And to call it “scathing” and “brutal” wouldn’t do it justice. Jay responded to Nas’ freestyle, and in true form upped the ante, because “you know who did you know what with you know who.”
On his next album, God’s Son, Nas responded with Ether where he devoted the entire song to Jay-Z. Nas spit some truths, over a hot beat. Nas sounded like he was full of passion, something hadn’t sounded like in awhile. Nas had clearly come back.
But Jay had one more shot to fire. Jay released the freestyle Super Ugly where he explained, in detail, how he had sex with the mother of Nas’ daughter. Fans thought that Jay’s response was weak, and declared Nas as the winner of the battler. Finally Nas had the fans on his side again.
(Along the way Nas also had beef with Nore, Cormega, Mobb Deep, Nelly, Funkmaster Flex, and Cam’Ron as a result of him “naming names” on the air at Power 105, after Nas wasn’t allowed to lynch Jay-Z in effigy at Hot 97’s Summer Jam 2002. He also attacked Def Jam and Warner Brothers record labels.)
Was Stillmatic perfect? No, but it was a vast improvement over his previous albums. Rewind was a great conceptual song in the same vein as the film Memento. There were a few songs that I didn’t care for, but overall this album reminded me of what I loved about Nas in 1994.
(Interesting Note #1; Jay-Z’s “Unplugged” album was released the same day as Stillmatic. Draw your own conclusions)
The Lost Tapes followed, which was comprised of songs that didn’t make the cut for previous albums. Again, Nas shows his lyrical prowess by rhyming from the perspective of the unborn, on Fetus, one of the highlights on this compilation.
God’s Son was released amid rumors that Nas had joined Murder Inc which gave the lead single Made You Look a more pointed meaning, as many fans were searching the album looking for the Murder Inc logo.
On Last Real N&gg# Alive Nas covers some of his subtler drama in the industry, including one with Biggie. He also addressed the death of his mother on Dance. The inlay book was filled with revolutionary imagery, providing further proof that “Nas Escobar” was dead.
Nas’ latest offering is the double album Street’s Disciple. Now to me, Nas hits it out of the park. Nas managed to create a double album that’s actually worthy of being a double album. The beats are solid, and Nas is at the top of his game lyrically. He even creates a feminine persona by way of “Scarlett.” He plays the role of a mad scientist on The Making of a Perfect B****, and takes listeners through the life of Rakim on U.B.R.. After a decade Nas has finally crafted a worth successor to Illmatic.
(Interersting Note #2; The Jay-Z/Linkin Park mash up album was released on the same day as Street’s Disciple. Draw your own conclusion.)
But of course there is some controversy. On the track entitled These Are Our Heroes Nas attacks some prominent Black celebrities. He’s taken some criticism for that. In fact InsidePulse’s own Aaron Cameron addressed the topic a few weeks ago. On that note I’ll hand the column over to Mathan from 411Black fame.
I think that some of the folks that responded to The Bootleg were misinterpreting message of the song. To me it’s clear who he’s targeting and for what reason.
Let’s look at Kobe, Taye, Tiger and Cuba. Let’s see what do they have in common? Um none of them are married to Black women? Check. Um, all of them have fully taken advantage of integration by abandoning the Black community? Check. All are Black males who typify one of the oldest stereotypes about Black men, their lust for white women (peep the “great” film Birth of a Nation from some pretty grotesque portrayals of the stereotype)? Check.
What’s really more detrimental to the Black community; a sitcom (Red & Method where the stars decided not to continue on because of poor writing or offspring like Tiger Woods, who aren’t “Black?” One is a TV show and the other actually diminishes the political voice of the race by decreasing census numbers. Interesting.
Nas attacks those folks for buying the idea that the American Dream includes a white wife. He attacks them for abandoning the Black community for success.
Does anyone recall earlier this year when Bill Cosby made some comments about the Black community? Well this is, for all intents and purposes, a response.
Nas has a problem with “heroes” saying “look you can follow our example and leave the Black community behind.” While Bill Cosby may donate sums of money to Black organizations, he makes appearances at colleges, hardly the people who need inspiring. This is why his barbs were met with indifference.
It’s possible to be successful and not abandon your culture. Snoop has success via Soul Plane but I don’t see him abandoning “the hood.” Yet Taye Diggs could barely act like he knew anything about Hip Hop in Brown Sugar.
And I can certainly think of more detrimental characters that Fred Sanford, a guy who owns his own business; and Louise Jefferson, a strong Black woman who’s not afraid to stand up for what’s right.
To the idea that Taye Diggs and Cuba Gooding shouldn’t carry any burden for being Black, that’s a bit absurd. Does anyone really think that Taye & Cuba are reading for the same parts as Matt (Damon) & Ben (Affleck)? Taye & Cuba play “Black” roles. And if they fill “Black” roles on screen, shouldn’t they do so in life?
Anyone desiring to hear Nas “name names” or “turn the mirror on his own industry” need only look back 2Ã‚Â½ years to when Nas went on Power 105 and railed against the industry and named specific MC’s and record labels.
Nas makes a valid point about people playing the roles they are given, be it on the screen or in life.
Alas, you’ve come to the end of another column disappointed. But read these folks, they won’t let you down.
Every Other Holiday
Aaron promises nude pictures and drug flavored candy, but there’s no link between the two. Completely unrelated he discusses stocking stuffing. Seriously.
Jeff says good-by to the Late Night Jukebox, in a blowout fashion. He also covers Elvis and DMX. Seriously.
Gordi addresses classical music and wrestling. Seriously.
Gloomchen admonishes “dry snitches.” She even compares illegal downloading to rape and murder. Seriously.
Tom gets in the holiday spirit and covers metal. Seriously.
Jeff & Mike Eagle conclude the Beyond The Encore feature by focusing on the beginning of Em’s career. Seriously?
Tayo’s back! Seriously.
Jim has some good news. Seriously.
Jeff Modzelewski has returned. Seriously.
Double M got some feed back. Seriously?
Ian still holds a grudge against the Doves. Seriously.
Phil actually liked some music this year. Seriously.
Nico is the third hottest woman in music. Seriously.
Bonus Quote From Nico – “I said in Melody Maker to some interviewer that I didn’t like [N]egroes. That’s all. They took it so personally”¦although it’s a whole different race. I mean, Bob Marley doesn’t resemble a [N]egro, does he? “¦He’s an archetype of Jamaican”¦but with the features like white people. I don’t like the features [of Black people]. They’re so much like animals”¦it’s cannibals, no?” (New Wave Rock, 1979).
-The preceeding quote came from Ego Trip’s Big Book of Racism!
Five of My Favorite Nas Songs
1. Memory Lane
2. One Love
3. The World is Yours
4. Life’s a Bitch
5. One Mic