Thursday, 3 July 2008

Nas's Untitled Reviewed

As we all know the new Nas album was originally supposed to be called 'N**ger' but Def Jam gave in to pressure and Nas was forced to drop that title. It now looks likes its going to be Untitled or simply N as the album cover above suggests. The album is 15 tracks long (although iTunes have managed to snag two bonus tracks) and features guest appearances from Busta Rhymes, The Game, The Last Poets, Eban Thomas of The Stylistics, Chris Brown, Johnny Polygon, Mykel and Keri Hilson. Production credits for the album include Nas's longstanding collaborator Salaam Remi, Polow da Don, DJ Green Lantern, DJ Toomp, Stargate, Cool & Dre, The Game, Mark Batson, Mark Ronson, Jay Electronica, J. Myers, Dustin Moore, and of Dead Prez.
As with most true hip hop heads I was hoping to see at least one track produced by DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Pro or even Kanye West on this album but I was disappointed to see them all missing. However I decided that I would give the album a thorough listen before making any judgements.
The album's first track is 'Queens get the Money' and is produced by the much hyped Jay Electronica and is only 2 minutes and eleven second so is more like the album intro than a track in itself. The Beat is a sparse piano loop with no drums. The loop is short but dope and the lack of drums allows you to focus on one of Nas's best verses in recent years. There is no chorus, or scratches just Nas showing off his formidable skills on the Mic. There are political comments throughout the rhyme as well as lyrical metaphors that show us the genius behind Illmatic is still there. Some choice quotes from this track are;

"I'm over their heads like a Bulimic on a see-saw"

"My Queen used her milkshakes to bring Y'all to my slaughterhouses" and

"Hip Hop was aborted so Nas breathes life into the embryo"

This is a dope track and sets high expectations for the rest of album.
The second track is 'You can't stop us now' is produced by Salaam Remi and features Eban Thomas of The Stylistics & The Last Poets over a beat that has been used by many rappers including Rza on 'You can't stop me' from his recently released 'Digi Snax'. Rest assured though that Nas and Salaam utilizes it better than Rza did. The guest appearances actually add to the track and don't detract from it at all. Lyrically Nas addresses some of the ills that plague modern back society over a bass riff and some nice horns.
J. Myers and Dustin Moore provide the backdrop for 'Breathe', the album's third track. Nas takes a less conscious route for his lyrics and it suits the mellow beat nicely. To me I can imagine playing this track on my summer holidays chilling on the beach or driving around in a nice convertible, I don't actually have one but I imagine this would be the sort of tune that I would play if I did have one.
The Game makes an appearance on the Cool and Dre produced 'We make the world go round' along with Chris Brown. The Game and Nas always work well together and if this tune had a different beat and no Chris Brown maybe the track wouldn't be so dissapointing. Unfortunately the beat is run of the mill Cool and Dre with far too much wack singing all the way through the track. This just seems like a obvious attempt at grabbing radio play and in doing so all they've done is produce a track that is almost guaranteed to get fast forwarded by most hip hop heads.
'Hero' is the fifth track from the album and the first single. It features Keri Hilson and is produced by Polow da Don and unfortunately this falls into the same category as the 'We make the world go round'. Nas's lyrics are dope but everything else about the song lets it down; mediocre beat with too much singing. Making songs like this will not make you a 'Hero' Nas.
For some reason Nas chose Stargate to produced the lack lustre 'America' which sounds like Jan Hammer might have rejected it for the original Miami Vice soundtrack. Again we have more unnecessary singing distracting us from Nas's dope lyrics.
Nas enlists Stic.Man from Dead Prez to produced the rock tinged 'Sly Fox'. On this track Nas attacks the Fox media monster. He asks why he gets targeted whilst Fox put Grind house, Kill Bill and other violent films. The beat suits the aggression in Nas's voice and its nice to hear Nas over some rock loops for a change. But the best things about this track is the intelligence with which Nas attacks Murdock's empire, this is what Nas should have been doing years ago, Chuck D would be proud.
On 'Testify' Nas again takes a political stance and asks his fans would they stand next to him. Th beat is provided by Mark Batson and although it does have some singing on it it doesn't seem out of place. This is a decent enough track and once again Nas's lyrics shine above the beat.
DJ Toomp provides a symphonic beat for 'N.I.G.G.E.R. (The Slave and the Master)'. The beat provides a nice mellow backdrop for Nas's mature lyrics that attempt to highlight the injustices in American society and the way it addresses black people and their contributions to that society.
Stic.Man steps behind the boards again for the impressive 'Louis Farrakhan'. The song has an upbeat tempo and gives Nas a good stage to highlight his views on Louis Farrakhan. Another good track with a dope beat and impressive lyrics.
Nas enlists Mark Ronson for his ode to his favorite food on 'Fried Chicken' which also features Busta Rhymes. At first the idea of a track about Fried chicken seems absurd but give it a dope beat, featuring horns from the Dap Kings and cool lyrics from Nas and Busta and you've got a recipe for a cool track (sorry about the pun).
The Last Poets appear again on the rather strange 'Project Roach' which has Nas rapping from the point of view of a cockroach. Eric Hudson handles the production on this strange track with a mellow beat and good lyrics.
One 'Ya’ll My Niggas' Nas actually looks at the word N**ger and the stereotypes it conjures up. Once again Nas shows he is taking a more mature and political stance on this album. Which can only be a good thing although some would argue that it may lose him some sales but garner him more respect.
Stic.Man gives Nas another dope beat for 'We’re Not Alone' unfortunately the track has some weak singing on it which really detracts from the song and the message Nas seems to be trying to get across.
The last track on the album, 'Black President' starts off with a Tupac sample and has Green Lantern providing an almost military beat. Nas takes this track to address who I for one hope will be the next President of The US. Once again Nas's lyrics outshine the beat and show how much he has grown lyrically.
This is a strong album and apart form the obvious attempts to grab radio play I really enjoyed it. However Nas falls into the trap that we have seen him fall into before, he doesn't choose the beats to match his lyrical prowess. He is clearly one of the best rappers ever and on this album we see him address serious subjects in a mature and intelligent manner but the beats just let the album down. Mark Ronson, Stic.Man and Jay Electronica do provide dope tracks but there is no 'Nas is Like' or 'the World is Yours' and even though Nas is reaching a highpoint lyrically if he had the beats behind it this would be a contender for album of the year and not a runner up.

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