On NASIR, Nas makes his long awaited return and continues the GOOD Music’s dominant run.
Nas needs no introduction. Widely considered one of the best rappers of all time with timeless classic’s like IllMatic and It Was Written, Nas is a Hip Hop icon. His and influence and quality has waxed and waned for twenty years, but every release is met with excitement with fans, this album being no different. When Nas released “Nas Album Done” on Dj Khaled’s album Major Key, the hype was enormous. But as the years went by a new Nas album felt like another Detox and fans began to lose hope. So when Kanye announced a self produced Nas album was on the way, hip hop fans were surprised and elated. Not only would we be receiving a new Nas album, but also a 7 tracks produced by Kanye tailored specifically for Nas. This is the Hip Hop head’s dream. NASIR does not disappoint, in 26 short minutes Nas delivers clever and thoughtful bars over immaculately produced beats.
“Not for Radio” kicks the album off with the confident swagger Nas is known for. The beat on this track is absurd. The deep operatic sample engulfs the track in grand drama, and compliments Nas’ voice perfectly. Nas proudly raps about black excellence and the power of himself and other African Americans in a racist world. Nas references historical figures and moments that sought to silence black Americans including Willie Lynch, the Swat and the Black Panthers, and Abraham Lincoln and the 16th amendment. Nas illustrates how all of these decisions were made not to help black Americans, but in reality for other political or racist reasons. The chorus, featuring GOOD Music protégé 070 Shake, is wonderfully done as well. Shake confidently sings “I think they’re scared of us” as the beat fades to bombastic snare hits. “Not for Radio” starts the album off with a bang.
“The Cops Shot The Kid” is another spectacular song on NASIR. The repeating Slick Rick sample of “the cop shot the kid” is hypnotic and extremely catchy. It is hard not to bob your head throughout the entire track. Nas and Kanye both tackle police brutality on young black Americans. Nas specifically brings up how police interfere with black children having harmless fun. Kanye continues Nas’ argument on his verse with poignant lines like “Tell me who do we call to report crime/ if 9-1-1 doing the driveby.” Though police brutality has been addressed in countless songs, “The Cops Shot The Kid” is a fresh take on a much talked about issue.
“White Label” continues the streak of amazing songs on NASIR. On this track Nas raps about his current standing in rap and his influence on multiple generations. Nas raps about how he started many of the trends rappers still follow including high fashion. In the second verse Nas takes in his current legendary status rapping about his wealth and women. While Nas comes through with solid bars, the production takes the cake on White Label. The sharp vintage vocal sample of “I’m gonna have to leave you” is an absolute earworm. The scattered trumpets are erratic and engaging and bring even more energy to the track.
“Bonjour” is a change of pace in the track list with a more smooth feel. Nas details his luxurious life he lives with women across the world. Nas uses great imagery to take the listener to the places he has been. Tony Williams delivers a decadent chorus adding to the lavishness of the track. The production on “Bonjour” is layered in piano and string sections that elicit the emotions of a high end black tie event.
“everything” is the most minimal track on the album instrumentally. The skeletal drums and ambient background is reminiscent of Kanye’s 808s and Heartbreak. Kanye’s singing on the chorus is also 808s esque. The beautifully sung background vocals bring a somber air to the track. The Dream’s signing is solid, but feels a little flat compared to the rest of the performances on the song. Nas fills his verses with many quotables including “when the media slings mud we use it to build huts.” On the second verse Nas aptly uses vaccinations and shots as a metaphor for the pain black people learn to live with. Everything feels important, but it runs just long enough to grow tired unfortunately. A few less hooks and refrains and the song would have been ideal, but still it is a solid track.
“Adam and Eve” features an infectious schmaltzy piano riff that carries the track all the way through. The Dream delivers an almost folky chorus, that compliments the instrumental exactly. Nas details his daily luxurious life and the lessons he has learned from his ancestors. While “Adam and Eve” is a great track it feels lackluster compared to its predecessors, but maybe I was just spoiled with the first few tracks.
Nas closes NASIR with “Simple Things”. The track features a very calm beat with a vocal sample and atmospheric chords in the background. In the first verse Nas brilliantly addresses his often critiqued beat selection saying “ Never sold a record for the beat, it’s the verses they purchase/ without production I’m worthless/ but I’m more than the surface/ want me to sound like every song on the top 40/ I’m not for ,you not for me, you bore me/ I drop lines prestigious schools read their students/ look at my album plaques, somebody agrees with the music.” Nas simultaneously dismisses the critics and emphasizes his skill in these lines. This track is very good, but it is baffling as a closer to the album. The track feels the least important of the album, so why it was placed at the end is confusing.
Before I can wrap the review up I have to address the 7 deadly sins theory. A few days before the album release Kanye tweeted the 7 deadly sins, which many fans have deemed the theme of the album. There are lines in each track that may allude to each sin, but the overall songs do not address the sins in my opinion. This makes me believe that either Nas failed on his attempt at a concept album, or the tweet had nothing to do with NASIR at all. Regardless, I am dismissing the theory in my overall review of the album because all it will do is detract from the work Nas has produced.
Overall, NASIR lived up to the expectations. The production on the album was layered and dynamic and, as expected, Nas came through with slick flows, rhyme schemes, and lyrics. The album starts off incredibly, but falls off as it goes along. While still good in their own right, the last three pale in comparison to the opening four. But with that being said, NASIR is still entertaining from end to end. Nas and Kanye one again cement their legendary status.
Highlights: Not Fro Radio, Cops Shot the Kid, White Label, Bonjour