REVIEW | NAS ‘NASIR’ ALBUM PRODUCED BY KANYE WEST

NAS NASIRWe have finally been graced with the highly anti­cip­ated elev­enth stu­dio album from Nas, simply entitled, ‘Nas­ir’. Expect­a­tions were high and no one knew in which dir­ec­tion he would take his music in at this point in his career, we were excited. The album was released fol­low­ing a listen­ing party in no oth­er than Queens, New York where his writ­ing was birthed. Pay­ing homage to his humble begin­nings, Nas has always shown love to where he came from — Queens­bridge.

Exclus­ively pro­duced by Kanye West, the album has been received with great con­tro­ver­sy and mixed feel­ings around the unlikely par­ing. Kanye pub­licly stated his thoughts, ‘slavery was a choice’. Some­how this notion seems to go again­st everything Nas has ever stood for, but he has always been an enig­ma of con­tra­dic­tion and con­tro­ver­sy, his unpre­dict­ab­il­ity is refresh­ing and we will nev­er know exactly what he was think­ing it was prob­ably a very stra­tegic move. If you listen to this album with an open mind, it’s clear work­ing with Kanye has not affected the integ­rity of his lyr­ics nor have the beats dis­trac­ted focus from his mes­sage. The pro­duc­tion by Kanye West is lav­ish, some tracks have a grand atmo­spher­ic feel to them with gran­di­ose orches­tra sounds, it almost feels like cine­ma­to­graph dir­ec­tion to com­pli­ment Nas’ icon­ic vivid descript­ive verses.

Con­sist­ing of only sev­en tracks, with Nas it’s all about qual­ity and not quant­ity, sev­er­al of his lines have mul­tiple mean­ings which could leave you pon­der­ing for hours try­ing to fig­ure out which way he meant it, only to real­ize it works all ways, for this reas­on his tracks are some­thing to be savored. Sim­ul­tan­eously I can’t blame rap fans for want­ing more tracks from an artist who brings con­scious thought in this new age of mumble rap and non­sensic­al lan­guage.

Nas has grown expo­nen­tially in the six years since his last album, both on a per­son­al and busi­ness level. His career extends bey­ond music not only to spon­sor­ship deals, mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar invest­ments and com­munity pro­jects but also his fel­low­ship at Har­vard. A nice touch which cel­eb­rates the extent of his suc­cess is that this album is released on his own record label – Mass Appeal. He has come a long way. This is reflec­ted on this album, still clas­sic Nas but older and wiser, still address­ing those top­ics which really mat­ter. Nas’ laid­back reflect­ive approach may be inter­preted as ‘lazy’ by some how­ever I feel that it is just his mind­ful­ness in his obser­va­tion of chan­ging times and stay­ing calm amid­st chal­len­ging situ­ations. Per­haps this is why he has not dir­ectly addressed alleg­a­tions from his ex-wife Kel­is, in order to main­tain focus on his over­arch­ing mes­sage. Or he may not feel that it is neces­sary to fuel the fire. Sadly, this album has come under much scru­tiny for Nas’ the lack of respon­se, I per­son­ally do not feel an album is the place to address that, and many review­ers for­get alleg­a­tions require evid­ence to be veri­fied. Keep­ing to a pro­fes­sion­al review of his music and mas­ter lyr­i­cism, there are how­ever sev­er­al lines which could be inter­preted as his dis­tant com­ment­ary if you listen closely.

Straight into ‘Not for the radio’, we already know this is going to be again­st main­stream opin­ion and taboo sub­jects, ‘Colom­bi­ans made crack, the gov­ern­ment made stacks’ a men­tion of how Amer­ic­an soci­ety made money from drug sales at the price of des­troy­ing com­munit­ies. Heavy with polit­ic­al and his­tor­ic­al ref­er­ences, dis­cuss­ing plights of the black man, as the hook sings ‘I think they scared of us’, imply­ing the power of know­ledge and empower­ment, it’s a power­ful track, it’s almost a call to arms of know­ledge. Feat. Puff Daddy it almost feels like a fol­low up to ‘Hate me Now’ with a sim­il­ar lar­ger than life sound, also refer­ring to ‘Esco­bar sea­son’.

The album cov­er is an image taken by pho­to­journ­al­ist, Mary Ellen Mark depict­ing chil­dren with their hands above their heads, hold­ing up vari­ous objects includ­ing a toy gun again­st a wall, taken in South Dal­las where this com­munity has been des­troyed by crack addic­tion. We all know Nas is very vocal about the impro­vised state of black com­munit­ies in Amer­ica, we later real­ize this image visu­al­izes the images described in, ‘Cops shot the kid’ the second album track. Cre­at­ive sampling uses chilling screams of Richard Pry­or with samples from Slick Rick’s ‘Children’s story’, trans­formed into a beat, exhum­ing the mad­ness of the situ­ation. Nas addresses police bru­tal­ity spe­cific­ally that aimed at chil­dren from eth­nic minor­it­ies, ‘dis­ad­vant­ages of the brown’. This con­cept is smart, he is telling the present-day children’s story. Kanye has a strong verse on this and they seem to be in sync on their val­ues, ‘tell me who do we call to report crime when 911 doing the drive by’. It is not for the con­ser­vat­ive.

‘White Label’ samples ‘Pris­on Song’ by Shahram Shabepareh, which in itself is a nice find from Per­sian funk gen­re, takes me back to look­ing around for Nas samples. A lot more per­son­al address­ing some of his demons, ‘Drink­in like Dean Mar­tin is noth­ing to me, the spir­its is some­thing I can’t part, and it’s fun to me’, I inter­pret this line as a double mean­ing, he is a spokes­per­son for Hen­nessy which is part of his busi­ness ven­tures he can’t part, but is also known to be a heavy drink­er and loves to party which is the dark­er side of the music industry. In this sense the ‘spir­its’ could mean demons which pos­sesses him. Kel­is stated they partied a lot which could have lead to the det­ri­ment of their mar­riage. This track tells us ‘The odds are what you love can kill you like a heart phys­i­cian who does from a heart attack’.  We are all vic­tims of our desires at times, imper­fect humans.

‘Bon­jour’ is suave and soph­ist­ic­ated, it sounds remin­is­cent of ‘Only an hour’ I get the same imagery of Nas ming­ling with the rich and power­ful in the south of France as a mem­ber of the millionaire’s boys club. I can’t help but think his vivid descrip­tions are not only walk in his shoes of liv­ing a lux­ury life­style in the form of a well deserved brag, but also doubles up to serve us as a vis­ion for our own selves as he rein­forces that we all have the same poten­tial to real­ize our vis­ions. Nas touches on his rela­tion­ships with women, ‘be care­ful who you get­ting preg­nant, that’s long term stress­ing’, an obvi­ous ref­er­ence to his rocky rela­tion­ship with ex-wife Kel­is.

One of my per­son­al favor­ites from this album is, ‘Everything’ ‘If I could change any­thing, I would change, Everything’ which makes us reflect on how many issues we are facing in the world today. Urging us to ‘don’t think the same as every­one else’ and be dif­fer­ent, we are all unique and that should be cel­eb­rated, and that we should think out­side of the box and not fol­low the masses. Nas got to where he is today by fol­low­ing that philo­sophy, going again­st the grain he became a rich black man in a pre­dom­in­antly rich white envir­on­ment, ‘My first house, 11,000-square-feet man­sion, It was a haunted by dead rich whites, Mad a nig­ga bought his crib to hang up pic­tures of black Christ, Cir­cu­lar drive­ways, black cars and black ice’. We should be proud of who we are and that we shouldn’t change ourselves for the accept­ance of any­one else. Nas also ref­er­ences recent events where two black men had the police called on them for just wait­ing in Star­bucks, ‘If Star­bucks is bought by Nestle, please don’t arrest me/I need to use your restroom/And I ain’t buy no Espresso’. Another remind­er that racism does still exist, even if you are at the top, but that should not stop you doing your thing.

The con­cept of ‘Adam and Eve’ is geni­us, it of course con­tains Bib­lic­al ref­er­ences to the first man and woman on Earth who gave into tempta­tion. Once again Nas dis­cuss­ing his per­son­al demons and giv­ing into tempta­tion for his love of women. I loved this reverse miso­gyny line ‘They wan­na fuck me, have me under their belt, slightly offen­ded, yeah that’s how I felt, that’s how it ended.’ he’s offen­ded women will only want to be with him because of his name and status, to tick them off their list, and he’s ‘slightly offen­ded’, this com­pletely throws all ideas that women are the only ones who can be objec­ti­fied. He then goes on to say, ‘I’m good at exist­ing, exis­ted in my truth, as long as I enjoy the fruit’ mean­ing the fruits of his labor are also the fruits of his sins and he’s going to enjoy everything he has worked hard for.

 

Nas addresses his leg­acy of longev­ity on ‘Sim­ple Things’ his last track, as though longev­ity is an old friend and they go way back, a very clev­er present­a­tion of the con­cept, they have a built a rela­tion­ship and under­stand­ing of each oth­er. Des­pite a more chilled out vibe this track seems to be a mes­sage for his haters, but done in such a way that it’s almost like Nas is show­ing us he does not care what they think because his leg­acy speaks for itself and he has noth­ing to worry about. ‘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, Want me to sound like every song on the Top 40, I’m not for you, you not for me, you bore me, I drop lines pres­ti­gi­ous schools read to their stu­dents, Look at my album plaques, some­body agrees with the music’. Nas tells us he not known for his beats but his lyr­ics and those are not for the masses but those who really listen and under­stand him, his verses are even stud­ied by stu­dents. He must be doing some­thing right as his longev­ity and fan­base prove that. The last line on this track makes a beau­ti­ful end to the album, from what began as an aggress­ive ‘Not for the radio’ ends with, ‘Sim­ple Things’ a more chilled vibe with lines like — ‘Everybody’s say­ing my humility’s infec­tious, I just want my kids to have the same peace I’m blessed with’, some­thing so sim­ple yet not easy to achieve. It felt like the war of the album was over which could rep­res­ent all the drama of his private life and career and that everything Nas does is only to make a bet­ter world for his chil­dren, ‘You wealthy if your kid’s upbring­ing is bet­ter than yours’ as he stated on ‘Bon­jour’.

Another clas­sic album by Nas, I enjoyed each track for dif­fer­ent reas­ons, the more I listen to it the more it speaks to me. It left me ener­gized and motiv­ated. Themes var­ied from civil rights move­ments and hedon­ism to reli­gion, fam­ily and spir­itu­al­ity. There is def­in­itely a lot of food for thought here, it can­not be appre­ci­ated with only one listen. A warn­ing that this album may be mis­con­strued as a little inco­her­ent to those not accus­tomed to Nas’ layered style, but for those who know it’s per­fectly con­sist­ent with his leg­acy. Nas spits those thoughts in the back of your mind you don’t even want to think about let alone say out loud, I love those con­ver­sa­tions, some­times it is like he can read my sub-con­scious mind. I feel we’ve had many paradigm shifts in our soci­ety, tra­di­tion­al val­ues and expect­a­tions of human inter­ac­tions have changed, but this album feels very famil­i­ar with its sense of tra­di­tion­al­ism. We are taken on an intro­spect­ive jour­ney, leav­ing us want­ing more out of life and believ­ing we can get it too.

 

 

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Faizah Cyanide

Faizah Cyanide

Faizah works in clin­ic­al research by pro­fes­sion and has been an avid Hip Hop lov­er since the early 90’s, hav­ing cre­ated her own Hip Hop event, ‘Break­in’ Bound­ar­ies’ in the early 2000’s which was pre­dom­in­antly based around the con­cept of bboy battles, she has worked with sev­er­al inter­na­tion­al events pro­moters and dan­cers to inspire oth­ers through this art­form.

About Faizah Cyanide

Faizah Cyanide
Faizah works in clinical research by profession and has been an avid Hip Hop lover since the early 90's, having created her own Hip Hop event, 'Breakin' Boundaries' in the early 2000's which was predominantly based around the concept of bboy battles, she has worked with several international events promoters and dancers to inspire others through this artform.