After a six-year hip-hop hiatus, Escobar season returns. Nas—one of the most iconic bar stars of the hip-hop galaxy—has released his 11th studio album, Nasir, which is a much-anticipated follow up to his 2012 LP, Life Is Good.
The new album features 7 tracks produced by the artistically ambitious Kanye West, whose G.O.O.D. Music label seems to be at the epicenter of the music world so far this summer. Previous releases by Pusha T, Ye, Ye and Kid Cudi, and now Nas, have maximized the label’s real estate value on multiple music market blocks.
Below is a song-by-song breakdown of what Yeezy and the reigning poet laureate of Queensbridge, New York has in store for inquisitive ears:
Not For Radio: The title says it all. The track opens with God’s Son painting a picture of ghetto glory and splendor. He envisions “Black Kemet gods, black Egyptian gods/ Summoned from heaven/ blessed dressed in only Goyard/ homie go hard like stole and rob it in a stolen car.” The song’s hard drums and heavenly harmonizings flirt with messianic delight. Nas also dips into his alternative history bag, giving the listener material to Google, or simply ponder: “To Catholics, Moors, and Masons—John Hanson was not the first Black prez to make it…”
Cops: Nas and Kanye trade Black Lives Matter bars over a Slick Rick vocal drum loop from his classic “Hey, Young World.” This song addresses the senseless murder of innocent young Black men at the hands of U.S. policy enforcers. Nas proclaims “Cop shot the kid/same ol’ same/ pour out a little liquor/champagne for pain.” While the loop has appeal in the beginning, it loses momentum because there are no surprising musical transitions or added instrumentation over the course of the song that is impactful. The rhymes are solid, and although the loop is a creative idea, it doesn’t translate very well musically after the first verse. It sounds very mechanical, and virtually begs for something organic.
I’m Gonna Have to Leave You: The production on this song leaves a lasting impression on the listener. The sampled vocal loop is as intriguing as it is random. Way out of left field. If you play this in your whip too loud you just might crash it based on pure excitement and enthusiasm. Inexperienced drivers beware!
The track features relentless Judgment Day trumpets and Jamaican Sound Bwoy Bureill vocal samples reminiscent of “Mercy,” a feature cut off 2012’s Cruel Summer LP featuring Kanye and other G.O.O.D. Music artists. Too bad the song is just over two minutes long, and only has Nas rhyming for about one. With that being said, it still highlights the distinct avant garde appeal of a Nas and Kanye West collaboration.
Bonjour: This is definitely a stand out track. A lot of rappers from the 1990s have struggled at crafting age-appropriate hip hop music that isn’t corny and pretentious. Nas isn’t one of them. This song is simply about a grown and mature man enjoying the finer things in life with no stress or struggle on his mind. Nasir brags “Want her ass the fatest, Beat It. Thriller jacket.” The steady drums and piano riffs give the song a sonic aura of sheer grace and elegance.
Everything: It’s a dark and dreamy track that features an introspective Nas. We like that. His magnum opus, Illmatic, casts him as a young man staring out of his project window. This song is more like him as a responsible adult peering out at a troubled world from lofty residential towers overseeing a sprawling city skyline. This cut is everything.
Adam & Eve: Nas fans will appreciate the vintage Nas sound that has him vividly illustrating the affairs of women, men, and cold-blooded snakes plotting on his downfall. “The ghetto Othello the Moor/Oh my God, they speak venomous on the boy…,” Nas raps. The “spicy rigatoni” reference, alongside other culinary allusions on “Bonjour,” leave you thoroughly convinced that Nas enjoys being a restaurateur. He’s the owner of Sweet Chick restaurants in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Simple Things: The final cut features one of Nas’ most poignant observations on the album: “I never sold a record for the beat/ it’s my verses they purchase/ Without production, I’m worthless/but I’m more than the surface.” It’s a fitting retort to one of Nas’ biggest criticisms over the years—his beat selection.
The Nasir album isn’t Illmatic. But then again, no rap album is. With this offering, it ain’t hard to tell that Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones can still spit with the most elite emcees in hip hop today.
While it probably will not completely satiate die-hard fans who would like more musical output from Mr. Jones, the Nasir project is a strong appetizer that will leave many looking forward to more music, while exposing him to a younger audience that has developed an affinity for the Kendrick Lamars and J. Coles of the world.
Adika Butler is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Treasures of Darkness: Living Jewels for Spiritual Resurrection. You can read more of his articles at www.ThirdEyeMax.net