July 1, 2018 Nas – NASIR (Album Review)
Arguably one of the Hip Hop genre’s most important artists, Nas’ lyrical genius and rough beats helped put the east coast back on the map during the 1990s. A style that would earn him a mass of success, his tales of life in the inner city and its harsh reality would pioneer a new wave for Hip Hop, one that has not since been duplicated. Now over two decades since his 1994 debut album, Illmatic, Nas has maintained his status as a top-selling artist, releasing eight consecutive platinum and multi-platinum albums, plus selling over 25 million records worldwide.
Respected by many, it has been quite a while since anyone has heard any new music from the lyrical master. So, where has Mr. Nas Escobar been? Well, it has not been all silence – Nas has done his share of collaborations, released the Nas: Time Is Illmatic Documentary in 2014, and executive produced the 2016 Netflix original series, The Get Down. Even still, it has not been since 2012’s Life is Good that he put out a brand LP. Six long years later, he made his epic return on June, 15, 2018 with NASIR, his twelfth overall studio album, and reportedly his last with Def Jam Recordings.
An album that has been alluded to for sometime, even with DJ Khaled’s 2016 album Major Key’s track “Nas Album Done,” NASIR has travelled a long road to it finally seeing the light of day. There was speculation the album was almost complete in spring of 2017, but then as late as April of this year, the announcement came down that Kanye West would be acting as a producer. That in mind, the album also includes appearances from Puff Daddy, 070 Shake, Tony Williams, and The-Dream – making for an interesting mix of collaborators. Additionally, and perhaps the most bold factor, the album is only 7 tracks long and under 30 minutes in-length. To many, that would be considered an EP, so does the short but sweet approach pay off for Nas?
First of all, for the most part, the news behind NASIR was somewhat hush hush. In fact, the listening party for the album, that took place on June 14th in Queensbridge, New York City, which also streamed via Mass Appeal’s YouTube channel, seemingly happened under the masses noses with little knowledge of such. Tactful, to keep the music a surprise, NASIR still managed to debut at number 5 on the Billboard 200, while continuing to build a buzz weeks after release.
As mentioned, Nas has always been very talented at delivering jarring, raw lyrical content, both topical and revealing. For NASIR, he remains current – approaching topics of inequality, racial tensions, as well as lies and truths. Not shying away from expressing his feelings, the opening track, “Not For Radio,” with Puff Daddy lays the groundwork for a narrative about misconceptions, disceptions, and varied truths. This is followed by the powerful “Cops Shot The Kid,” featuring a sample of Slick Rick looping throughout the track, along with the bloodcurdling scream. Startling, it paints a picture that would make anyone think twice about the state of the world, gun violence, among other things.
From here the album features a mix of strong songs, but the masterpiece of NASIR lies within the confines of the cut “everything.” Featuring both The-Dream and Kanye West on vocals, at over 7 minutes long, it is a song that is both beautifully produced as well as atmospherically somber. A message open to interpretation, either uplifting or tragic, overall, it gives a vibe of hope in a time that socially seems hopeless. It raises questions, while also engaging the senses to not believe everything you hear, but most of all, stay true to who you are.
Thereafter, another strong offering, “Adam and Eve,” features a classic ’90s flow while being equally as revealing lyrically. Here, Nas, either biographical or projecting a story of the harsh reality for many, delivers a message the only true source of knowledge happens over time. Speaking of life’s wisdom, “Simple Things” closes out the record with a message of humility, and ultimately finding peace within yourself and the ones you love.
There is a lot to digest lyrically with NASIR. Some may argue that Nas contradictions himself with some messages, but in truth, the words are spoken to make the audience think. In a time where there is so much noise in everyone’s ears – from social media to mainstream bias news media – what is the truth? Well, perhaps Nas is subtly saying that we need to decide for ourselves and rise above the noise. Whatever it may be, the album is more than skin deep, and no matter which side of the aisle one stands on, it should certainly stop them in their tracks to listen, but even more importantly, think.
From a musical standpoint, NASIR is extremely well put together, retaining classic Hip Hop beats and sounds from yesteryear, while featuring really superb production. Say what you will about Kanye West, he certainly is a brillant producer. Overall, NASIR is an enjoyable listen that excels in spite of seemingly being over in the blink of an eye. It is for these reasons CrypticRock gives this album 4 out of 5 stars.