Dressed in all white Nas announced the release of his new album without words. Donning a lab coat and white gloves holding up what looked like the ruins of a fossilized cassette tape bearing the album title — ‘The Lost Tapes II’. The cassette tape is a ‘future relic’ art design by artist Daniel Arsham. Despite the cassette tape being worn out, the clinical setting eluded a futuristic feel and I couldn’t help but think this portrayed Nas’ longevity. Keeping his classic style that is adored by millions but also able to stay relevant in the present day.
The pre-album release of track ‘Jarreau of Rap (Skatt Attack) feat. Al Jarreau, Keyon Harrold’ was received by fans with mixed feelings. Jazzy beats using the sample of the late Al Jarreau’s “Blue Rondo à la Turk” this was a more experimental track for Nas but it exemplified his diverse ability to flow. The lyrics still on point with Nas claiming, “Everybody not gone get you but keep going”. And some fans might not get this, but others will. It grew on me. At the listening party Nas stated, “I appreciate anything you say because at least you gave a fucking fuck”. And this track really did insight a reaction and got everyone talking about the album.
The full album dropped on Mass Appeal and Def Jam on 19th July with a promising track listing. Nas often criticized for being a “bad beat picker” has collaborated with arguably some of the best producers in the world on these tracks such as Swizz Beats, RZA, Pete Rock, Kanye West and Alchemist and the beats are just right. There is something for everyone on this album. Seventeen years since the release of the Lost Tapes this second installments had fans waiting for more traditionally sounding tracks from Nas. Only Nas could compile such a strong album from tracks that didn’t make it on other albums and if you listen close you can work out which albums they probably would have gone on.
The opening track, “No Bad Energy” really spoke to me as Nas pleads for an end to negativity. Nas went into a bit more detail on the concepts here in the listening party, “I really want to inspire you all to really do what you need to do in your heart and never be distracted by naysayers and people who don’t really know that’s making you tick, that’s making you – pushing through your blood to do great”. Inspiring as always. With angelic choir voices on the hook Nas addresses the heavy criticism he has received throughout his career being “oblivious to you sceptics” A great opening with reciting “Iridescent heroes’ essence, please clear the exits” as we get ready for the rest of the album, I feel like I need to fasten my safety belt. To top this off it sounds like a sample of DMX in the background shouting, “What” but perhaps it was my imagination running wild in the wish that they had done more tracks together in the 90’s.
Vernon Family is upbeat and a celebration of success, Nas refers here again to Escargot as he did on the Untitled Album. No Nas album would be complete without him showing love to QB. “Queensbridge Politics” was emotional with Nas giving a shout out to dearly departed Prodigy. “I wish that book never came out” says Nas referring to P’s autobiography which is whilst they still didn’t quite see eye to eye. Nas states, “Bandana P will always stand as tall as the trees”. Nas breaks down Queens is like no other hood, “Music’s legacy is incredibly high pedigree” as he goes on to list some of the most talented and you really do realise its impact on Hip Hop.
The flow on “Lost Freestyle” is very reminiscent of old Nas. I loved the Pete Rock production on “The Art of It” this instrumental I could happily play all day long. “Queens Wolf” is the story of Nas’ growing up in Queens and transforming into the beast that he is today making parallels to a werewolf. Again, a lot of classic Nas vivid imagery.
“War on Love” was another personal favourite of mine which Nas was inspired to write after having a conversation with Lauryn Hill. Nas shouts out many African countries, “the war which is going on is against love, we under attack”. He drops so much knowledge on this track with historical references from the Wright Brothers who invented the first plane to conspiracy theories about chem trails. It makes you contemplate how strong we would all be if we united instead of letting the media divide us. There has always been debate on Nas’ religious affiliation which he addresses on this track, going from Christian to Muslim to now no religion, only his own standards.
You can instantly recognise RZA’s production on “Tanasia”. The beat is so Wu Tangish, you can visualize ninjas training in temples. Also mentioning QB on the hook, Nas brings the Asian flavour, “If you not from Queensbridge you must be from Asia”. Another track to exemplify Nas’ storytelling skills you are locked in. The chilled, “You Mean the World to Me” narrates a love story which went from a fairy-tale to an ending.
On the last track, “It’s A Beautiful Life” Nas touches on past relationships with his exes. He mentioned without name Carman Bryant who wrote a tell all book mentioning Nas, “in Barnes and Nobles new release section she’s confessing”. Nas also references his ex-wife Kelis who’s tried to keep Nas from seeing his son, “Stevie wonder said he’s in my corner blind but can still sees the pain of a young performer”. Despite their rocky relationships he wishes her well, ‘‘She’s married again and I’m wishing all the best to her”. The moral of the song is that life is Beautiful, “when you place blame then your defective, when you take blame then your affective”. Nas is taking responsibility for his actions.
Also at the listening party, Nas mentioned having enough unreleased material for a Lost Tapes 3 and 4 albums. If they are as deep as these tracks, personally I can’t wait to hear what else he’s been saving. Few many not understand the scattered thoughts of Nas but for the fans it is that erratic diversity which is cherished, you never know what to expect.