Nas being back is excellent for hip-hop, his style and craft is something that the genre desperately needs in these times of Soundcloud and chart hits. Being a voice is Nas’ field of expertise, but that can often be his downfall. On NASIR, we are given the good and not so good of the Queensbridge rapper, but above all it’s just fantastic to hear him rhyme again.
Nas needs no introduction at this point in his career, he has been there and done it all in the rap industry and is a true icon of the genre. Ever since his timeless classic of a debut Illmatic was released in 1994 at the age of just 20, Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones has been a staple name to hip-hop fans and despite never hitting the heights of his phenomenal debut, has always shown signs of genius in his long and established career.
Now on his 11th album, Nas is certainly a veteran of the game and is in need of a huge album to cement his legacy, his discography has been inconsistent but his talents are unrivalled, so could NASIR be the confirmation of his greatness? Well, with Kanye West at the forefront of the production, he certainly has the foundations to do so. The question now was whether this album would show the promise that his Nas Album Done feature showed on DJ Khaled’s Major Key album teased, or whether it would be more of the same for an artist who has desperately tried to reach the heights of ’94 once again.
In the social media build-up to this album, Kanye tweeted an Urban Dictionary link to the definition of the Seven Deadly Sins and it has since been theorised that each song on this album signifies its own deadly sin. Not For Radio is Pride, Cops Shot The Kid is Wrath, White Label is Gluttony, Bonjour is Lust, everything is Greed, Adam and Eve is Sloth and Simple Things is Envy. This is a truly intriguing concept and one which I believe works and adds up well to the ebb and flow of the album.
Considering this is his first album in six years, Nas hasn’t missed a touch; he sounds refreshed, revitalised and full of life on the microphone as he takes the role of lyrical prophecy with effectiveness and passion. The messages he conveys cannot be understated, particularly on a song like Cops Shot The Kid where Nas and featured vocalist Kanye West trade verses about police brutality and deliver some hard-hitting lines such as “how in the hell parents gon’ bury their own kids not the other way around? Reminds me of Emmet Till, let’s remind ’em why Kap kneels” of course referring to the Take A Knee campaign from NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
There are occasional blips in concentration when it comes to Nas’ lyrical and vocal deliveries, he often sounds fairly safe and similar in terms of pitch and tone and will leave any complex vocal ranges to his supporting acts, the likes of The-Dream and Kanye for example. Now this isn’t a major issue but can become fairly frustrating when listening. The failure to address his troubled past of allegations of abuse against ex-wife Kelis is something worth flagging up as well, questioning his true compassion, but that seems to be something he wants to leave behind him and the additional issues he does hone in on with this album seem to be much more universal than personal.
In terms of production it is everything we have come to expect from this mega run that Kanye has been on over the past month or so, seven tracks of all killer no filler. Adam and Eve sounds like it came fresh from the mid 90s and gave a real nostalgic feel when Nas started to flow over it, while Not For Radio has some wonderful choppy horns and hi-hats to make a largely unique rap beat. It is just Kanye giving himself free roam while also bleeding into what he believes would sound best behind Nas vocals, and on that front his boldness knocks it out the park.
All in all, this album has glittering highs of real cultural and musical importance, demonstrating to us just how incredible an artist Nas is and why he is truly one of the all time greats. The disappointing parts of this album come from the fact that in the 26 minutes he was given, Nas tries to cram too much into it and in the end it can grow a bit lacklustre from trying a bit too hard. It is far from perfect and refined, much like Nas’ previous album efforts but very much unlike the driven home style we usually expect from Kanye’s production.
There is far more good than there is bad on this album for the simple fact that it is Nas rapping over these beats, that seems to often save the project from dwindling, but I would consider this an improvement on many of Nas’ past albums, but not reaching his best work; despite all of our biggest hopes and expectations. I am far from disappointed by this album because it is a very strong piece of work, but I cannot help but feel that this could have been groundbreaking and sadly it just wasn’t.