"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Nas - The Album That Shall Not Be Named: Review


There is an inherent dichotomy going on with Nas’ new album, “Untitled.” Due to the intention of originally wanting to call the album, “Nigger”, and all of the baggage that surrounds that name, we are not only left to judge the album for it’s music but also as a sociopolitical statement as well. Although, the Evil Hordes Of Political Correctness and Good Taste led by the dreaded tyrannical warlords, Alfred Charles Sharpton Jr. and Jesse Louis Jackson, have successfully forced Nas and Def Jam to cut the balls off of Nas’ album title, we all still know what the album is actually called so as a critic we must take care to remember this dichotomy as we judge Nas’ latest opus. This album ain’t your typical rap album. It’s not even really your typical Nas album.

Surprisingly, the album works much better as a sociopolitical statement than it does as a traditionally great rap album. Nas, who always harbored some grandiose delusions of being a revolutionary political thinker, has always had some troubles translating his somewhat muddled politics into his music. Nas’ strength as a writer has always been his ability to articulate meticulous details in a story and creating mood. Unlike Chuck D whose ability to get his message across clear and concise, Nas was always able to convey rage or pathos but not necessarily be coherent. That’s not a problem on this album. This is Nas’ best lyrical performance in ages and if you are into hearing somebody kick lyrics for kicking lyrics sake than this album will go down as the best lyrical performance of the year. “Untitled” is about the consequences of being black in America and whether by blatant prejudice or by unconscious neglect and systemic oppression, a black man in America is still considered to be a “n*****”. Two of the best songs on the album “Sly Fox” and “Testify”, explicitly and deal with this fact. On the guitar-smashing, aggressive “Sly Fox”, Nas chastises the media and more specifically Fox News for hypocritically poisoning the public with their distorted half-truths and lies to the detriment of hip hop and black people. It’s a personal and angry screed unleashed by Nas in retaliation for the Bill O’Reilly’s personal attacks on Nas last year after the Virginia Tech Controversy. It’s a damn powerful song. On “Testify”, a downtrodden Nas laments and accuses his mostly white fans of only buying his records but missing the spirit of his music and refusing to stand with him and help change the world when the chips are down. The album is meant to make the listener uncomfortable and in that regard, it succeeds. Nas isn’t pulling any punches. He’s going to alienate a few of his fans with some of the material on this album. However, the fears that is album was simply using it’s original title to be exploitative are largely unwarranted. Unlike 2006’s Hip Hop Is Dead, another “message” album, Nas’ message is clear and focused. The album deserves, at least, an honest listen without pre-conceived notions to allow Nas to speak his mind.

Ultimately, the problem with the album though, like every Nas’ album post-Stillmatic, is going to be the production. After years of pressure from every fan in the hip hop world, Nas wisely lost the phone numbers of long-time collaborators, Salaam Remi and L.E.S., as the latter doesn’t appear at all and the former only contributes the RZA-biting (or Daniel Dumille biting if you really want to get technical) “You Can’t Stop Us Now” (a song I actually sort of like). Instead of using the laid-back sample-heavy easy listening production that Nas has favored this decade, Nas opts for more live instrumentation and a more diverse crowd of producers than he has before employing the services of the likes of Jay Electronica, stic.man of dead prez, Polow Da Don, and Mark Ronson to handle the production duties on this album. The results for the most part are hit and miss. Polow Da Don continues to prove he’s one of the best producers working as he produces the glittery commercially-minded single “Hero” which continues to sound better and better the more I hear it. The song builds to a fever pitch by employing these twinkling synths and butt rock guitars that helps to make “Hero” one of Nas’ better commercially-minded singles ever (Granted, I suppose the competition is really only “If I Ruled The World” because we all remember the “You Owe Me/Nastradamus/Oochie Wally” trifecta of suckiness earlier this decade unless you’re like me and completely repressed it from your memories). Mark Ronson’s “Fried Chicken” is another standout track which uses the obvious but still weirdly odd metaphor of eating fried chicken to being in love with a promiscuous women.

In other places on the album, however, the album is strapped with Nas’ traditional slow-tempo snoozefests. As songs, “Breathe”, “We’re Not Alone”, and “America” don’t do a hell of a lot for me and while they are still interesting to listen to for Nas’ sheer lyricism, they don’t exactly have a lot of replay value on their own accord. In other places, Nas’ tradition of including one horrifically half-baked abortion of a song continues. “Make The World Go Round” featuring The Game and Chris Brown plays the goat here as it matches “Birthday Girl” in sheer, commercial fuckery. Often the album can fall into the lyricism for lyricism sake category which a lot of Nas’ haters loathe Nas for. If you aren’t a Nas fan or don’t like his brand of music, you’ll probably hate this album but if you’re looking for hot beats and mindless lyricism I suppose there is always that Weezy album people are falling over themselves to worship it’s gleaming testicles. As I mention earlier, lyrically Nas sounds absolutely inspired and comes across as a complete firebrand. “Queens Gets The Money”, the minimalist Jay Electronica produced intro, is a stunning display of sheer lyricism that honestly puts pretty much everybody to shame. Nas’ stampedes over the beat and simply unleashes his potent poetry. It’s an awesome thing to listen to if you are into raw lyricism.

Ultimately, the album is going to appeal to a select audience. It’s kind of a masterpiece of hip hop lyricism and political theater but it sort of eschews what modern audiences are accustomed to when listening to an album so if you aren’t a Nas fan or fundamentally disagree with the politics being presented I can’t necessarily recommend it. In fact, you’ll probably hate it. I’m sort of torn myself. While the album is much clearer with it’s inherent message than “Hip Hop Is Dead”, I was instantly fond of and enjoyed “Hip Hop Is Dead” while I’m left feeling less than satisfied after listening to “Untiteld.” Honestly, I feel that Nas’ awesome mixtape that he did with DJ Green Lantern prior to the release of this album, The Nigger Tape, is the superior piece of music (notice I did not say album, folks). There were a couple of tracks on that mixtape that were begging for proper commercial release most notably “Esco Let’s Go” (which is my favorite Nas song in a looooooong time) and “Cops Keep Firing.” If Nas had replaced some of my lesser favorite tracks on the album with a couple of the better ones on the mixtape, I’d probably be running through the halls naked at my office screaming “Nas is back! Nasty Nas is back!” in sheer enthusiasm for the album. However, I can’t help but feel that this was the album that Nas wanted to make and he wanted to say it exactly this way. It’s too bad the world had to catch a hissy fit over the name because Nas’ is not playing this time around.

67 comments:

Anonymous said...

good review but to be honest nas albums have never been that great production wise including stillmatic.. lyrically nas came strong on this album which is what i care about the most

Madman said...

So where would u rank Untitled in Nas' discography??

Anonymous said...

Pretty spot on review Doc. Everything you said here is how I feel, although I think "We're Not Alone" is actually a pretty great track.
A lot of things about this project are a little frustrating just in the way it was handled and it is a shame the best songs seemed to be relegated to the mixtape.

Ass Hat said...

second best nas album, i'll say as a hostage to fortune.

if he's going to insist on an album-length concept, i'd rather have some political engagement (however flawed), than nas claiming hip hop's dead, pointing out how rich he is, dressing like an egyptian or pretending he can see into the future. plus, his flow on this album is better than anything since 'illmatic'.

shame he has no taste in music, really.

DocZeus said...

"So where would u rank Untitled in Nas' discography??"

Umm, I'm not sure. I'm tempted to put it above Street's Disciple and below I Am... but I haven't really spent enough time with it to be sure.

It's not on the IWW/Stillmatic/God's Son/Hip Hop Is Dead level and it sure the hell ain't Illmatic.

Christopher said...

Oochie Wally>Anything the guys done since.

DocZeus said...

"Oochie Wally>Anything the guys done since."

Ew, no. Nas kicked the worst verse of his career on that. Jay was right. His bodyguards ate him alive on that one.

Trey Stone said...

"Hero" is corny. Polow obviously wants to be a new, better Timbaland but there's always something missing from his beats.

i'm not just saying that as a big Timbo fan either, i really like Polow's two contributions to will.i.am's album of all things and he's had his share of OK beats.

and once again, the idea that Weezy's lyricism is "mindless" (it's not) and his beats are hot and not great. if you're not deadset on hating the guy that's just not true. granted he's unhinged but his lyrics are always connected in some way. all the Wayne love/hate back-and-forth is gonna keep going between new/old-school fans until the heads at least acknowledge that not everyone has to rap like Rakim or Nas to be considered a great lyricist.

good review though, i'm interested in this even though i think the leaks have sucked and from your analysis i doubt i'll like it. i mean why exactly would i like an album that's not musically interesting when it's music we're talking about, knowhati'msayin'.

i'd say "the problem with every Nas album from It Was Written on except for I Am... and HHID" for production though, not post-Stillmatic.

DocZeus said...

It Was Written has great production for your information, Trey. And Weezy ain't saying shit no matter how hard you spin it. It's all punchliney flashiness without any real substance behind it. Although, that's not neccessarily a bad thing. See: Supreme Clientele.

Trey Stone said...

if "Nas Is Coming" and "If I Ruled the World" were the whole album maybe. everything else is too sleepy for its own good, though i guess "The Message" and "Black Girl Lost" are a small notch above the rest.

not that i got a problem with laid-back shit but there's right and wrong ways to do it. HHID for instance, much better than that one.

oh and this probably isn't an ideal time to introduce it, but fuck it i've given in. i'll be busy with you know real life this weekend, but to anyone reading expect some hard-hitting exposes about the infallibility of Dwayne Carter and the cranky oldmannisms of Nasir Jones over at the new Trey blog at some point. not that my comments haven't been hard-hitting exposes themselves but the format's kinda clipped my wings, knowhatimean. starting out slow and then i'll be taking over this blog shyte

tray said...

"Oochie Wally>Anything the guys done since."

Ew, no. Nas kicked the worst verse of his career on that.


Oh no. There are a few worse than that, but one obvious choice is his verse on Master P's "Where Do We Go From Here." Besides his flow, which is strange and awful, he says of going to see Master P's movies, "he could be the next Spielberg, I supported it, I enjoyed it that night."

And I, too, don't like the beats on IWW. The Trackmasters were never any good. Poppy and boring at the same time. Where do you put Lost Tapes, by the way? I might put it second after Illmatic.

Trey Stone said...

^tray's got it on this one, i forgot to mention that the Trackmasters are essentially second-rate Hitmen.

Trey Stone said...

damn i gotta get used to this link shit, i'm stuck in my old ways

Anonymous said...

it was written was not great production wise thats what kept that album from being 5mics... this album imo is much better than hip-hop is dead and nas best since stillmatic... every body has the there own opinion but some of nas best albums i didnt like after first listen but they grew on me and now i love em

Anonymous said...

havent heard it yet doc, but damn it didnt think you had it in you to take a few stabs at your hero. kudos for tht. a nas album is definitely worth checking out at very least. and as much as hate to stray off topic, as a weezy fan, tht whole cheapshot at "mindless lyricism" irks me. i think its time for all you bloggers to define "lyricism" coz i think thts where the rift starts
"And Weezy ain't saying shit no matter how hard you spin it.. It's all punchliney flashiness without any real substance behind it. " well, in terms of how i define lyrical - im looking for someone exercising artistry with the word, not the message. the "substance" that you speak of doesnt necessarily make anything lyrical or artistic (but im sure yknow that since you just mentioned supreme clientele) i dont know why people find it hard to view rappers' (see:wayne, cam'ron, e-40, young dro and the like ) fun, and creative experiments with their voice and words as 'lyrical' i mean, to examine that against a more cohesive verse is one thing,but to outrightly dismiss that brand as "mindless" is another. - jay kay ..p.s sue me, but i think "made you look" has been nas' greatest attempt at a commercial banger. you can hate me now. but i wont...

Anonymous said...

Also, while i totally see wht you mean when you talk abt the overall socio political context of the title being an overbearing presence on how the record may be judged - i dont know why a renowned wordsmith like nas, wouldn't take an album titled "Nigger" seriously (that too in this day and age) - i mean if you really want get people talking maybe you should make your record listenable. I mean forget the lukewarm knee jerk response he got for his album release. Imagine if "Nigger" sold A millie A millie A millie A millie. Imagine the conversation tht would spark. And thats one major missed opportunity that these so called "conscious" lyrical dues always miss. Like the whole ice-t vs soulja boy silliness, its just funny to watch all these conscious lyrical types talking abt whts killing hip hop, when they themselves release records that have very little replay value. Im not talking abt dumbing it down , but its not a revolution unless you reach the masses. - jay kay p.s right now im listening to nas's verse on "why you hate the game" and damnn, is the untitled album this good?...just trying to imagine wht a world full of thoroughly listenable nas albums would be like. "pro black, i dont even pick cotton out of aspirin bottles" hilarious

Jordan said...

Jaykay, that cotton joke dates back at least to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, probably before.

Doc, if the Green Lantern tape is so great, why didn't you write about that?

the Ascetic Sensualist said...

Nas’ better commercially-minded singles ever (Granted, I suppose the competition is really only “If I Ruled The World” because we all remember the “You Owe Me/Nastradamus/Oochie Wally” trifecta of suckiness earlier this decade unless you’re like me and completely repressed it from your memories).

Hey, isn't "Hate Me Now" part of that...tetrafecta? It certainly sucked.

And there was also "I Can". Rarely has a more commercial rap single been recorded by someone other than Will.I.Am.

africanorigins said...

The Nigger Tape was pretty ill. And got me excited to listen to this album. Because when I first found out he was calling his album Nigger. I was like a lot of people. I tolerated Hip Hop is Dead. HHID was pretty good in some places. But naming the album Nigger just seemed desperate. And the first few songs I wasn't feeling. But The Nigger Tape opened my eyes. Based on your review, my hopes will not go unfulfilled, Thank Nas. That's what's up.


And Hero is the shit. The message in that song seems to be Nas's ethos since I've listened to him. Yeah I'm a Nas Stan. But I'd rather be a Nas Stan than a ......oh never mind.

Christopher said...

Difference being that Supreme Clintele is a classic, the nonsesne raps sound awesome and Ghost was open about just saying whatever.

Wayne is spitting good shit about %12 of the time at this point.

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

trey, you forgot about "I Gave You Power" on IWW. Not the greatest beat by Primo, yes, but everything works so beautifully for a pretty powerful song.

for whatever reason, I kind of like "Hero."

padraig said...

am I the only one who wonders why Tray/Trey start their own blog? I mean, it practically writes itself w/big concepts tailor-made to suck in irate commenters; Timbaland stannery, Weezy, anti-"lyricism", loopy right-wing politics to piss off all the liberals, etc.

also, doc - don't think you're being serious but blaming Jackson/Sharpton, as immensely dislikeable as both they & their attention-seeking tactics are, is absurd. what irked me about "Nigger" to begin with was how badly garbled the whole thing was. Nas was & is a master wordsmith (if not a great songwriter) but like most pop stars his political statements are mostly confused & contradictory. the whole thing came off like shameless pandering anyway - actually, on the same level as the Sharptons of the world. not that I can blame Nas for busting out every trick in the book to try & up album sales.

tray said...

Besides that Trey and I don't like each other (commenter beef), that's a fantastic idea, padraig. We could call it Tra(e)y. Very poststructuralist. Anyway, as far as the album goes, it might be decent. The first five songs that leaked off of it were awful, IM(not so)HO, but some of the ones that came out yesterday were pretty good. I'm actually much more excited that Styles's unreleased collabo with Pharrell from the '04 Time Is Money recording sessions leaked today. If you're a fan of Pharrell's ridiculous Pharrell Escobar schtick he does every once in a while, you'll love this. He screams "ch-ch-BLAOW!!" on the hook and sounds like he's terrifying himself with his gunshot imitation.

Anonymous said...

damn it jordan way to burst my bubble - well the nas verse on "why you hate the game" still stands as a pretty great listening experience. for the record, im a weezy fan and a stan who will back him up on all of his exploits. christopher just mentioned that weezy is spitting well abt 12% of the time now- well the 12% is a bit harsh, but i will agree tht his quality control is lacking, and he is spitting like a diluted version of himself. I mean lots of people agree that there's lots of great weezy moments, you can cherrypick off of his mixtapes, but I still think dude has a classic in him. When i speak of him being "lyrical" - im talking abt when he hits the spot with his off kilter rhymes and flow - which he did do a lot on that whole stretch from the carter 2 to dedication 2 to lil weezyiana all the way through to atleast da drought 3. but people were shitting on weezy fans of being easily distracted by so called swagger and mediocre punchline-rap even back then. - jay kay

Anonymous said...

shit i meant to say "a weezy fan ..and NOT a stan who will back him up on all exploits" freudian slip? hmmm

Anonymous said...

also back to nas - does anybody else think there's other reasons as to why nas doesnt pick better beats? as opposed to the infamous tin ear. I might be reaching ehre part of me always looked at this as being due to a)his relatively monotone flow, which means tht unlike jigga, his flow isnt dextrous or versatile enough to maneuveur through non-traditonalist east coast beats b) his personality - he just seems more of a gravely serious introvert - which doesnt allow to exercise the type of swagger to execute some of todays epic bangers (which is why i think people find 'hero' corny, although i dodnt think nas verse or polow's beat in itself are bad). i assumed because of these two factors , he's always end up declining on certain type of potentially great beats - on a musical frontier, dude isnt nearly as adventurous. - jay kay

Renato Pagnani said...

jay kay, those are some interesting theories, and I think the truth lays somewhere between the two.

As for Untitled, let me just say that I can barely listen to Hip-Hop Is Dead anymore. Untitled is much, much better.

Trey Stone said...

"am I the only one who wonders why Tray/Trey start their own blog? I mean, it practically writes itself w/big concepts tailor-made to suck in irate commenters; Timbaland stannery, Weezy, anti-"lyricism", loopy right-wing politics to piss off all the liberals, etc."

damn, OK ohsoseriouskid i get it, you've said it multiple times but none of it is true. and what do you like anyway? most of the posts i see from you are criticizing other posts/music/whatever.

also, tray while you may overdo it and have questionable rationale for disliking certain rap, i never said i outright disliked you. if you don't like me it's whatever though. e-hating batches

Trey Stone said...

also, just to go a little more in-depth: i am a big fan of Timbaland not a stan (the people who say he's "lost it" now are just popaphobic, your preferences but the guy's had plenty of great ideas in the last couple years,) i'm a conservative who's anti-Bush and not with the evangelical deal at all, i'm only anti-boringassrap, and people're just stuck on criticizing Wayne for lame reasons at this point. if this was two or even as recently as Da Drought 3 i'd agree with some of the points against him.

so you're done sir

tray said...

Timbo is great but limited, and as a rap producer he's kind of been a failure given all the talent he has. As a pop producer, I think he's the best thing that ever happened to pop in the past 15 years. His stuff with Aaliyah and Ginuwine sounds like it could've come out today. He made a critics' darling out of whiny-ass Justin Timberlake. Got Omarion AND One Republic onto my iPod. But as a rap producer what has he really done? He doesn't even have a Lord Willin to hang his hat on. Then again, I don't think his heart was ever in making cohesive albums for talented rappers, so you can't judge him on failing at what he doesn't care to do, if that makes any sense. In other news, Jeezy announces he's a conscious rapper, makes a heartfelt endorsement of Obama, decries high gas prices, and says he's discovered "the power of words," all while seated in front of, you guessed it, an American flag with black stripes. Must-see shit:

http://videos.onsmash.com/v/cItUQp7qbVRaHe4v

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

"But as a rap producer what has he really done? "

lobster and scrimp. all the proof you'll ever need. and throw in "come and get me" for good measure.

tray said...

Right, the best thing you can say about him as far as rap goes is he produced some of Jay's best work, about eight songs worth. Same could be said of Just Blaze, Clark Kent, and Bink (maybe I'm stretching it a little with Bink, but 1-900-Hustler, You Me Him and Her, and The Ruler's Back are pretty strong). And actually, I wouldn't call any of the stuff Jay did with him a career highlight, whereas Jay's work with Premo or Kanye...

Trey Stone said...

while i'd agree that Timbaland lacks a clear-cut potential classic outside of PastSex/HateSounds (and that's Timba_handz,) i think his highlights with rappers like Jay make up for it. "Nigga What," "Lobster" and "Come and Get Me" are all ridiculous, and everything they've done together is at least good except for those two beats of his on BP2 that aren't "The Bounce."

also Miss E and Under Construction are strong even though yeah there's some slip-ups. Missy's debut is good too if only for some of the insane opening tracks.

while i go back and forth between him and The Neptunes as my favorite hip-hop producers i think if you gave them their Lord Willin' it'd be something other than, well, Lord Willin', which is maybe half a good album. the N.E.R.D. albums and to a lesser extent Pharrell's solo debut and Hell Hath are all potential candidates though. and that Kenna that Chad Hugo did last year is pretty fuckin' cool too. anyone who views The Neptunes as glittery Top 40 hacks is basing their opinion of them too much on "Hot in Herre" or whatever (not that that's a bad beat)

tray said...

I'm not going to comment on how wrong it is that your two favorite hip-hop producers are Timbo and the Neptunes. Anyway, I finally heard the album, and it's really terrible after the first two songs. Breaking news: Fox is biased, an elite group runs everything, and we depend on "Mama Nature." Some say it'll all soon be over. You can see it in the weather. Oh, and everything connects to you! As fellow fruitfly thoreauly put it,

"nas still fails (as usual) to break down a meaningful subject, well, meaningfully. rather, he is more like a drunken town crier, unable to do anything but inform the public that yes, he does serve a purpose, yet every time he attempts to serve said purpose, he seems to stammer through it as though he has a mouth full of marbles and a liver full of night-train."

Trey Stone said...

well point taken that some of Timbo's most meaningful work hasn't been in rap, as is with The Neptunes (N.E.R.D. and Kenna: two of their best projects.) but they're just about the only big producers besides Kanye West who don't rely on a single sound.

Zilla Rocca said...

"It Was Written has great production for your information, Trey. And Weezy ain't saying shit no matter how hard you spin it. It's all punchliney flashiness without any real substance behind it. Although, that's not neccessarily a bad thing. See: Supreme Clientele."

Correct.

Correct.

And correct.

Zilla Rocca said...

Oh and the production on "It Was Written" was damn near classic (minus "Nas is Coming", "Black Girl Lost", "Watch Dem Niggas").

Y'all make me feel old as shit when I'm defending Nas albums from '96 and saying Weezy ain't all that! And I'm 25!

tray said...

I first heard It Was Written in 2002 or so, after hearing Illmatic, and when I got it I was like, "what the fuck, he sold out, all these awful poppy beats and pseudo-Premo beats." But it isn't that bad.

Renato Pagnani said...

Zilla,

"Black Girl Lost" and "Watch dem Niggas" are two of the best beats on It Was Written! "Nas Is Coming" sucks though.

DocZeus said...

Man, I go on vacation to North Carolina for a whole damn weekend and the whole operation falls apart.

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

you may think "Black Girl Lost" has a great beat, which is fine (though I disagree), but it has to have the most muddled, juvenile message on the album.

tray said...

^^

Hell of a lot less muddled than 99% of what Nas was saying on this album, and that's an understatement. Actually, what's muddled about Black Girl Lost at all?

Trey Stone said...

how in the hell does "Nas Is Coming" suck. seriously i swear the Nas songs/albums i like end up being the shit where his fans/stans are like "nah bro, that ain't the REAL Nas shit." Dre's beat there is some smooth cruise-control shit.

I Am... may have stretches of shit, but it still shits on IWW. believe it.

and i agree with jay kay (maybe the most insightful commenter here BTW, no ass-kissing. i'd definitely read a blog of yours) that you cranky mid-20 year olds (still in college batch!) need to define the parameters for lyricism. i think i've already got it: must sound like a boring-ass Rakim/Nas knockoff, no weird voices or flow alterations allowed

Trey Stone said...

by the way renato i know you aren't a Nastan. just saying.

DocZeus said...

A bunch of short thoughts since I've been gone all weekend and haven't checking my comment section-

Personally, I always felt that It Was Written initally got a bad rep because of the radical shift that the album was from Illmatic. You know, the whole the studio gangsterism of the Nas Escobar character plus the Trackmasters joints on there made people just hate that album out of sheer reactionary real hip hop-ism. (Nas has been a victim of that, too) Other than Black Girl Lost and Nas Is Coming, there isn't a weak track on that album.

For the record, I've always found Nas' discography as hit and miss as Jay-Z's. I just find to Nas to be the superior rapper. I love Jay-Z. I just think Nas is better. They both have some albums that are really meh.

I don't really consider "Made You Look" to be a commercial rap song. It was just a street banger that just really caught on. It's probably Nas' best single to date.

Timbo's work is probably superior to the Neptunes but whenever, the Neptunes feel like eschewing their Top 40 pop aesthetic and go minimalist, they are fierce. "Lord Willin" and "Hell Hath No Fury" are just wicked. Front to end.

I believe Nas recently gave an interview where he was explaining why he picks the beats that he chooses to rap on. His rational was that he likes the more monotous adult listenery stuff (my words not his) because he wants the listener to focus on his lyrics and not be necessarily distracted by some showy production. Personally, I always felt that people who feel that Nas is "boring" either treat hip hop on superficial level (which is fine. You don't gotta have to be a rap nerd and dig lyricism. Just admit it.) or aren't really trying.

tray said...

I don't think it's so much the beat on Nas Is Coming that's the problem as the ridiculous hook and corny Dre ad-libs. And all the background vocal "la la la" shit going on.

Trey Stone said...

why is appreciating good music superficial? this is what i don't like about some of your posts Doc, you come at detractors in a condescending way like they hate on hip hop that positions itself as intellectual for the sake of it. not that it isn't justified for some but you can't use it as a broad brush. and i don't always enjoy Nas's lyrics because i think some of them are either misguided or trying too hard to appeal to the "intellectually superior" collegeish types that make up an annoying part of his fanbase. don't get me wrong though, i don't base my opinion of artists on their fanbase and i have no problem admitting when a song of his is actually brilliant.

you're probably right about IWW, but it doesn't change that it's actually just not that good. Nas sounds boring and forced on the mafioso shit and while they're might not be an offensively bad song on the album like "Shoot 'Em Up" except for "Nas Is Coming" and "If I Ruled" is good either.

The Neptunes together (and i guess Pharrell on Hell Hath but otherwise he usually sucks now at trying to cop that style) can be dope on the minimalist shit, but speaking of "anti-real hip hopism" the idea that that's their only great style is some serious anti-poppish...ness. the N.E.R.D. albums and Chad Hugo's recent work on Kenna's album are dope, dope dope. figures that people'd sleep on Seeing Sounds out of Pharrell/anti-"elitist" "duuude, they're acting like they're be better than hip hop!" even though it's the second-best album i've heard this year, but what're you gonna do. and i honestly think Lord Willin' kinda falls apart after that guy's freestyle, even though the rest of it is far from The Neptunes best work too

Trey Stone said...

out of Pharrell/etc. hate, meant to say.

Anonymous said...

I feel like I'm in bizarro world.

I Am>>>>>It Was Written??!

Black Girl Lost= Bad/Muddled Song??!

This is pretty odd to me, because it would seem that some of the more recent criticism that Nas began to receive started from this album (I Am)! All of the "political message" songs and weird-ass tribute songs began to take shape here. Dude was pretty focused lyrically on "It Was Written," and the all the crime narratives were great, rivaling Scarface's best shit, IMO.

And while I do see the points of Nas detractors who say he's "boring," I mostly side with Doc on that issue. Actually, it goes deeper than that, and a certain disturbing pattern that I see whenever people start to critique "conscious" rappers, but I don't want to get into that here.

JustChad

Trey Stone said...

the good stretches of I Am... ("N.Y. II" through "Hate Me Now," "You Won't See Me Tonight" through "Life Is What You Make It," "Nas Is Like" and "Undying Love") are some of my favorite songs of his ever. it's schizophrenic to be sure but it's a compelling artistic schizophrenia.

what's the "disturbing trend," that people outside of okayplayer don't give conscious rappers an automatic A+ for effort when they release shitty albums?

Anonymous said...

I don't see any good stretch of music starting with "You Won't See Me Tonight." That song is middle-of-the-road Nas, which IMO, is worst than off-the-rails Nas. Least that guy's entertaining to a fault.

And I'll see you one cliched barb at Okayplayer, and throw you another at Village Voice and Pitchfork! I just think it's funny that nowadays, the "conscious" rappers are constantly shitted on by bloggers for a cliched and archaic way of making records when the opposites are given stupid passes for the exact same thing (ex. Nas/Jeezy). Of course Doc must see it, it has to be part of the reason this blog exists in the first place.

JustChad

Trey Stone said...

i think "You Won't See Me Tonight" is one song that proves that Nas and Timbo don't necessarily have the terrible chemistry that their other two collabos i've heard would indicate.

the OKP shot i only made because they're representative of a musical approach i really dislike, where the message becomes the most important part and other important factors, like you know the actual music are diminished. wasn't meant to directly associate all people with that crowd. your VV/Pitchfork tongue-in-cheek jab would work except i don't consistently agree with 'em (think the Clipse aren't all that, not big into Cam'ron/Dipset, don't listen to indie rock...sure there's other examples.) some of the rappers heads hate on and they hype just plain make better all-around records than some conscious rap heroes though, simple as that. you're equivocating when the problems that come up with the two types of rap we're talking about aren't the same.

tray said...

The crazy overrating of the Clipse is one of the big mysteries of life.

DocZeus said...

"The crazy overrating of the Clipse is one of the big mysteries of life."

Personally, I feel the Clipse are the definition of an act that is rated. An act that is good enough to consistently be rated as one of the best of 2000s but an act that nobody is going to be placing in the canon, anytime soon.

Hell Hath No Fury and Lord Willin' are two very strong albums that just fall below classic level.

Trey Stone said...

my basic problem with the Clipse is that they have one flow (similar to my issue with Nas's flow, though obviously they're distinct and i think Nas's voice has more character) and no personality.

the latter isn't really an issue on Hell Hath given how bleak Pharrell's production is but also indicates they wouldn't sound good over a wide variety of beats. whereas rappers like Jay, Biggie, Wayne and T.I. are more versatile.

tray said...

Two problems, doc:

1. They are in pitchfork's canon. So who cares, they're idiots anyway, but even a genius like noz (genius relative to the crap that passes for rap criticism) is crazy about them. And look at the reviews that HHNF got (you've got to piece the link back together). You would think the album was Illmatic or something. http://www.metacritic.com/music/
artists/clipse/
hellhathnofury?
q=hell%20hath%20no%20fury

2. They're not so good. They used to have a personality, they were funny and said things like, "ughh, another soul lost, had to make his shirt match my ox-blood colored Porsche," but now that's gone and has been replaced with this beady-eyed, monotone, "I sell so much coke, my soul is so cold" faux-coolness shit. Now critics will tell you that they have all kinds of interesting stuff to say about the conscience of the drug dealer and drug-dealing-related paranoia and survival and whatever the fuck. As far as paranoia and survival goes, all that was done way more eloquently by Mobb Deep. In fact, I'd happily trade the first two minutes of Trife Life for their whole career. The Clipse's idea of doing paranoia is to have Bilal come in and sing "I'm having nightmares, ooooh, my niggas say I'm p-noid, they say I'm p-nooid." Real subtle. As for the drug dealer's conscience, they've got this one verse on I'm Not You that's been fussed over more than the first chapter of Genesis... and it's not even that good. Pusha (or is it Malice?) says he feels guilty about selling drugs but sells them anyway because there's demand for them. Wow, brilliant. Jadakiss and Rosco take that song. Other than that, you've got a bunch of punchlines, some great, some okay, some just awful ("I'm moving the Keys, you can call me Alicia," "while I'm shoveling the Snow, Man, call me Frosty"), about how much coke they sell. Intoned in this joyless manner over beats that sound way better lovingly described by Tom Breihan than they do on your speakers. I liked Lord Willin, I like occasional Pusha guest appearances, I liked a couple of songs on the last album, but they were never that great and have gotten worse.

tray said...

Oh, and also, every great duo has some kind of dynamic going on between the two members - Andre played off of Big Boi, Havoc played off of Prodigy, same with Bun and Pimp, 8Ball and MJG, Tek and Steele, Rock and Ruck PMD and E Serm, etc. etc. They brought different things to the table. Or at least they had different voices. With Pusha and Malice, it's like Attack of the Cloned Crack-Pushers. What's the point of having two of them?

Anonymous said...

Ok, enough of the same arguments (there should be a blogging one week haitus on Wayne, the Clipse, Timbaland, the Neptunes, Jeezy and such), what did everyone think of Killer Mike's "I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind II?"

JustChad

DocZeus said...

"what did everyone think of Killer Mike's "I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind II?"

I got halfway through it before getting distracted by some tv but on a tentative listen, it was really dope.

"God In The Building" might be the song of the year.

tray said...

Killer Mike's a great rapper, his video's great, he's the closest thing we have to vintage Ice Cube (though he isn't so close, but still), etc. etc. - just not much of a discussion topic because no one's going to disagree. I will say this, though, Killer Mike is what Nas wishes he was. I mean, did anyone really expect some insightful social commentary from a guy who went on CNN in a Nigger t-shirt talking about how blacks are going to lose the right to vote in 25 years? Stick to what you know.

DocZeus said...

Tray-

I think you're letting your own personal politics cloud your judgment about Nas' statements on that album. Other than Nas' weird verse about aliens on "We're Not Alone", it's pretty clear what Nas is saying on this album.

And even Ice Cube's politics were pretty contradictory in their prime, the only artist that could completely make a complex political statement in their music was Chuck D.

Anonymous said...

man, killer mike's a great rapper. havent had the time to really absorb the new album. it sounds pretty dope on initial listen though . call me retarded if you must, but everytime i hear "2 sides" i hear the shawty lo chorus as "well goddaaamn, must be tube socks." seriously listen to it again and tell me im wrong.- jay kay

Truth Hurts said...

The Album is FIRE!!!


I'm buying three copies tomorrow.

Trey Stone said...

well i just did a writeup of my own on this at my blog. i agree with Doc that the message is clear and smart but i don't think it really holds together as an album.

let's go for 64 comments guys

FGE Editor in Chief said...

Good review.

Checks us out when you get a chance:

fishgritseggs.blogspot.com

Hip-Hop, Economy, Current Events, Politics

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