The third in Kanye’s GOOD Music run of mini-albums is the one I’ve been waiting for. Pusha T’s DAYTONA and Kanye’s Ye were overshadowed by surrounding events – Pusha T’s Drake diss and Kanye just being Kanye. Still the homespun vibe of the music itself was endearing, the sound of pure creative expression rather than corporate product. Modern Kanye music has gotten messier and more inconsistent but that’s the price of total creative control – a fair bargain as I see it. And this series of 7-song mini-albums is a most welcome conceit as opposed to bloated 20+ song dumps.
I admit my opinion of Nas has changed in the past five years or so. There was a time when he was far and away my favorite rapper – his run from Illmatic to God’s Son is untouchable. Then things went off the rails a bit, with only a few good songs on each album, and often the best songs left off (“Where Y’all At,” “Esco Let’s Go,” “Death Anniversary,” etc). You get used to that as a Nas fan, to the point where I’d rate his outtake compilation The Lost Tapes as his second most essential album after Illmatic.
But in the past few years Nas has seemed a bit lost. He doesn’t sound old so much as disconnected, content to mail out his monotone 16’s to diminishing returns. I could point to any number of disappointing Nas features but the one that struck me was “Powers That Be” with Rick Ross from last year. Like him or not Ross knows how to flow into the beat without sacrificing his dense lyrics; by contrast Nas just sounded unengaged. Not to mention this new era of melodic mumblers or Kendrick’s multiple flows per song style. Much as I hate to say it, sometimes Nas sounds like Eric Clapton plugging in for a blues solo – it blew minds back then but today it sounds rote.
But Nas is stuck in a dilemma – he sounds best on New York boom bap yet we want to see him grow and develop as an artist. I don’t want to hear him remake Illmatic with a batch of 2018 Premier beats, nor do I want to hear autotune mumbling. But I do want some more introspection and spirit. “Daughters” is probably the best Nas song of the past decade because it directly addressed his personal experience (a rap star publicly raising a teenage daughter) that still resonated with relatable truths for his audience. It’s not that I want to hear more dad-rap from Nas. But where’s his 4:44? Nasir is not it.
That said, Nasir is damn good. It’s an experimental fan service EP of Kanye meets Nas. (Note that the Kanye produced “Still Dreaming” was another highlight of the later period Nas albums.) The arty French vibe of “Bonjour,” the Slick Rick sample minimalism of “Cops Shot The Kid,” and the old school piano loop of “Adam & Eve” all sound tailored perfectly for Nas. The spacey prog/R&B of “Everything” could almost be a Ye song but it works too. “Not For Radio” is an unapologetic pro-black message with bits of Nas wisdom that populates his best work. Kanye’s verse on “Cops Shot The Kid” mentions “fake news” but I’m not mad at his appropriation of Trumpisms for his own purpose. As Nas even says, “Fox News was started by a black dude.” Evocative and provocative – that’s what gives music vitality.
At his best Nas is headphone backpacker music. Not a pejorative – we’re taking about deep content that rewards relistening, the reason why Illmatic holds up 25 years later. I’d like to hear Nas’s version of 4:44 with some introspection beyond his bank account and dining habits but for now Nasir is his best and most cohesive work since God’s Son.
You learn who you are when you around family
Gray hairs are wisdom that means you seen something
How many girls pre-bate before they date?
No voter card they are all frauds
Reminds me of Emmitt Till/Let’s remind ’em why Kap kneels