Friday, July 18, 2008

Review: Nas, "Untitled"

“The Unmentionable N-Word Album aka Untitled”
(Def Jam)

Nas hasn’t been a fresh voice for at least 14 years, but nonetheless, when you hear his slight raspy vocals, you know you’re in for a treat. As I was commenting to a friend last night, even Nas’ terrible records, would be a mediocre record for another rapper. I think it’s safe to say that there will never be another “Illmatic.” It doesn’t matter if he titles his next album “Nas-matic” or “Killmatic” or “I Need to Milk Nostalgia to Feed my Kids-matic.” The idea that a 30-something Nas will sound just as hungry as a 19 year old version of himself is absolutely silly.

Because of this notion, the litmus test on grading Nas has shifted the last five years; it’s become less about whether he can recreate the magic of an early 90’s hip-hop opus, and whether he’s still relevant and topical. That being said, “Untitled” might be one of the best of Nas’ recent releases.

The album’s proper starter, “You Can’t Stop Us Now,” is pretty much what you’re going to get throughout the record – thought provoking lyrics, crushing samples and the addition of great guest artists (in this case it was Eban Thomas of the Stylistics and the Last Poets). The generic production on “Breathe” makes it trite enough for radio airplay and the incendiary “Sly Fox” will have you asking for INS to deport Rupert Murdoch.

The legend of Nas is not only cemented in the fact that he’s the only lasting heir apparent to Rakim, but that his career changing approach to becoming a commentator to rile up Americans everywhere allows him to avoid becoming a shell of his former self. Unlike his contemporary, Jay-Z, Nas hasn’t concentrated on backdoor corporate deals (FILA sponsorship notwithstanding) or tried to crafted a boring concept album based on a movie that nobody saw – he wants people to know that he’s pissed, and that THEY should be pissed, too.

Overall, the production on “Untitled” is uneven – at times there’s a lot of promise and other times, it falls pretty flat. But Nas has steered himself to the point where it’s not really about the production, but rather about what he’s saying over those jumbled samples and drum loops that makes all the difference. Nas may be one of the few rappers who could get away with rapping over the most terrible beat in the entire universe and still walk out with his career intact.

“Untitled” is not “Illmatic” or even “It Was Written,” but it’s still worth a listen, particularly if you’re seeking a soundtrack for these turbulent political times.
Bonus Video:
Be a (Dreaded N-Word), Too [Unreleased]

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