It’s been six years since New York’s own Nasir “Nas” Jones released his eleventh studio album,'”Life is Good’ in 2016. Receiving reviews of four to five stars, the album was even considered “arguably Nas’ best LP since Stillmatic” from XXL. On Thursday (June 14) Nas revisited his hometown of Queensbridge, Queens to share his latest project, “NASIR” with Kanye West at his official listening party. The twelfth album produced exclusively by Kanye was met with some mixed reviews. However, I think it’s the pro-black album we needed, along with J. Cole’s KOD album.
It was Kanye’s tweet, confirming that he was working on Nas’ album that made me excited for the state of hip-hop again. “I feel like I’m 18 year old again when I make beats for Nas.” I never expected for Nas’ album to sound like the music of today, I knew that his music was set to a certain time period and production-wise, it is. But the content, the message behind NASIR is very current. Twenty four years since his debut album Illmatic, Nas speaks from a stance of a hip-hop legend, someone who has outlasts the major of rappers that I grew up listening to. “grey hairs of wisdom mean you see something,” he raps in ‘Adam and Eve,’ referring to his seniority over the rappers of today, the wisdom he has accumulated over time.
“Escobar Season begins..”
The album starts off with “Not for Radio” featuring 070 Shake and Diddy, creating the narrative and tone of the album. As much as other critics claim this is one of Nas’ weakest albums, I think it is the opposite. Referring to both Financial gain within our culture (Senegal’s finest, minerals, diamonds / The Earth is cursed but I survive many climates) and even correcting some of the textbook facts we taught as a nation of people (John Hanson was not the first black pres to make it / Abe Lincoln did not free the enslaved / Progress was made ’cause we forced the proclamation / SWAT was created to stop the Panthers / Glocks were created for murder enhancement), Nas really picks up where Cole left off with KOD. 070’s voice sounds raw and intense as she protests “I think they’re scared of us,” through the chorus. Nas places African Americans and our history on a pedestal, music that should be appreciated.
Kanye sampling of Slick Rick’s infamous track, “Children’s story” and Richard Pryor was genius for the message behind the song. Police Brutality against AA youth. (The cop shot the kid, same old scene / Pour out a little liquor, champagne for pain / Slap-boxin’ in the street / Crack the hydrant in the heat / Cop cars on the creep / Doin’ they round-ups, we just watch for the sweep.) This is also one of two songs featuring Kanye West, who also touches on the subject of AA youth getting killed by the hands of crooked cops. (Talkin’ big shit, ready to die / I know every story got two sides / Claimin’ he paranoid by the black guy / Cop wanna make it home by nighttime / Just a good kid, he wasn’t that guy / Had a little hit, he wasn’t that high / Cop gon’ claim that it was self-defense / Say he was ridin’ dirty so the case rests.) Too many so-called music critics are calling the album “dull“, “boring” when they can’t relate to what is being said or tired of the narrative when in actuality he is speaking of OUR reality.
Whether Nas is rapping about living the good life in White labels (A Vet stylin’ at Met Gala, / tuna salad from La Scala / Black sweats, swallow a lot of reefer) and Bonjour (Eat at selective kitchens / Speak on our next intentions / Over-creamy Polenta, it come chef recommended) or lyrically anniliating the beat with tales of globetrotting and luxurious living in Adam and Eve (After my morning walk, Havana cigar, the ganja spark / See my doctor more, sweatin’ the sauna or the spa / Spendin’ fifty large at the Bellagio.) he tells a story that fits his personality, the production isn’t going to sound like DAYTONA, Ye or KIDS SEE GHOSTS. Despite a music critic’s sorry reasoning for comparison of Pusha’s and Nas’ albums; “Kanye gave Push a selection of hard-hitting, head-nodding tracks that hearkened back to the kind of production he was giving Jay-Z in the early 2000s. Inexplicably, Kanye didn’t gift Nas with the kind of production he gifted Pusha T. Instead, Nas tries to work mostly with the types of beats that Kanye uses for his own recent material, and it leaves him way out of his comfort zone.” Maybe Andrew Sacher isn’t a huge fan of Nas, maybe he doesn’t listen to a lot of Hip-hop, but for someone who grew up listening to Nas (Illmatic to current), I am telling you that you can’t expect Kanye to create a similar sound for two rappers, who have different upbringings, different perspectives of life, different timelines in Hip-Hop with different stories to tell. Not all rappers sound the same, Drew. Kanye created a sound specifically for Nas.
I overall enjoyed the album. The production, his lyrical prowess and his skill of storytelling still remain sharp as ever before. We needed this album more than people believe. Nas has always been an activist for us through his music and I didn’t expect anything different. Kanye may have produced the album, but it was Nas’ words that carried the album.