DAR Hip Hop: Nas' I Am....

1. Album Intro 
2. NY State of Mind Pt. II
3. Hate Me Now
4. Small World 
5. Favor For a Favor 
6. We Will Survive 
7. Ghetto Prisoners
8. You Wont See Me Tonight 
9. I Want To Talk To You
10. Dr. Knockboot 
11. Life Is What You Make It
12. Big Things 
13. Nas Is Like 
14. K-I-SS-I-N-G
15. Money Is My Bitch
16. Undying Love 

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
-Nas is all time favorite MC. When I think of him, I think Illmatic and It Was Written. However, his 1999 album I Am... was one of his more slept on albums. While not a classic, the album still hit hard for all audiences and was seen as underrated and slept on as the years went by. Originally set to be a double album before the bootlegging run rampant, this is truly a really good album. Today, we look back at this slept on gem from Nas.

Nas' I Am album was around the time where a lot of critics were saying Nas fell off, he's a sellout,  amongst other things. This was obviously his attempt at trying to maintain his mainstream appeal and it worked. It almost went gold in a week and eventually hit 2 million copies. But how did I feel about it personally? Let's get into it.

We start off with "NY State of Mind Pt. 2", which is one of my favorites. It set the album off right. This really gave me a vision of what New York ghettos and street life were like. Me being from North Carolina, I was like "Wow I see the same things around me happening, just as he's describing". Now this didnt surpass Pt. 1, but it was still a great follow up.

"Hate Me Now" was that shit. I swear everybody had "haters" when this song dropped. Nas' 3rd verse was flawless. Small World was brilliant story telling about intersecting characters and karma, one of Nas' specialties. The production was very dark and made the song more compelling. My dad played Scarface heavy in the crib, so hearing him on "Favor For a Favor" was a shock to me. I loved this "New York to Texas connection". Face held his own and Nas' 2nd verse was greatness.

On "We Will Survive", I appreciated Nas penning verses to Big & Pac and touching on the issues they had without blame or negativity. While doing this I believe a few lines sparked the Jay-Z beef. The direction the production was headed in was surprising however. "Ghetto Prisoners", which was full of jewels addressing everyday struggles tied in with the metaphysical. Then you have "You Wont See Me Tonight" with the beautiful Aaliyah, which was a cool single. "I Want to Talk To You" was a favorite because he was addressing conspiracies, corrupt government and cops, economic struggles in urban communities, the US and world issues as well. "Dr. Knockboot" wasn't a crowd favorite, but to me it was nice. I feel like it would've been received better if Big or Jay had made it, because I feel Nas is held to a unfair standard with songs like this. "Big Things" which I didnt like much, but appreciated Nas showing versatility with a faster flow. "Nas Is Like" was amazing to me. His flow was so smooth on that. I remember listening to that every morning for weeks on the bus ride to school. "Money Is My Bitch" is another song I feel was cool, but that tropical sound is better fitted for other artists like Hov's Big Pimpin and 50's P.I.M.P.

"Undying Love", this story was so vividly detailed and brilliant. It was like watching a short film. I pictured everything as the song played. This unexpected ending made me not want to fall in love. Had the bootlegging not happened, I feel this would've been a classic double LP. Fetus wouldve been the opener with Undying Love as the perfect ending, but nonetheless I loved this album. There are only a few cuts i skip. The lyrics and content were on point. I just had to adjust to the sound Nas was bringing.

I’m neutral on the album...There are a lot of tracks that I like on this album and this album is very thought-provoking because some of the tracks that you hear on this joint don’t sound like the same person that illustrated two classics in Illmatic and It Was Written. Tracks like “N.Y State of Mind Part II”, “Nas Is Like”, and “Favor For A Favor” are incredible tracks that all fans of hip hop can surely enjoy in their music rotations. “You Won’t See Me Tonight” is my personal favorite from this joint because it doesn’t sound like the Nas that the hip hop community has grown to love and worship. As a hip hop great and one of the greatest ever to spit, his lyricism is driven towards an attitude that he accepts nothing better than being the best in the game. I love the lyricism and flow that progresses throughout all of the album. It’s very consistent and never falters on a track.The beats are sporadic, and there’s no wrong in that. I love how the intensity varies throughout the album based on the background beat and I especially love the layering of the calypso-infused beat on “Money is My Bitch” and “Hate Me Now” (Featuring Puff Daddy). There’s also some boom-bap and soulful samples here and there sprinkled on the album that I also enjoy, such as “We Will Survive". In summary, this is a good project, and a progressive move for Nas. The album feels very cinematic, dense, but there are bland sounds that I personally didn’t appreciate. It’s solid, but not classic or great.

As much negativity as I hear around Nas’ I Am... album, I have to attribute it to the attachment most fans have to “Illmatic”. Basically, Nas created a perfect album with his debut. It’s not my favorite in his catalog, but I understand its influence, impact and quality. It’s a hip hop staple, but over the years, it became his “achilles heel” in some way. No matter what he released after his debut, fans would forever think it fell short. “I Am...” to most people is in that category. Very few talk about it and even fewer recognize the brilliance that has also gone into this. Once again, I thank DAR for getting everyone together to chime in on a legendary MC with an underrated album.

For me, “I Am...” is far from perfect, but I do love it and I think it has left its stamp on hip hop. Nas is still Nas and his talent is laced in each track, but with that said, I like and appreciate the majority, but I’ll highlight my most favorites and one (maybe the only one) that I think fell a little short...here we go...

I have to start off with “NY State Of Mind Pt. 2” as Nas has DJ Premier on production again to truly solidify this as an exceptional sequel. Lyrically, it’s at the caliber of the original. Nas still has the vivid imagery (like when he says: “Niggas gaspin for air; til they move no more and just stare with dead eyes -- tired of riots, shit is quiet Simple-minded fools, infiltrate grimy crews”) and the flow, the storytelling and the coherence is intact, it ties in the original track and there’s nothing better than that. What could he have done differently to make this better? Nothing. It’s a perfect sequel. Premo also gets a ton of negativity about the beat, but that’s misplaced as well. He uses a sample from Eric B. and Rakim, and uses the “NY State Of Mind” beat as they’re both looped in a way that highlights Nas’ lyrics rather than creating unnecessary nonsens and a clusterfuck of noise. It’s simple and keeps the focus on the story. As a fan of Nas, I want to hear the story, so both Premier and Nas executed this perfectly to deliver that.

Another amazing one is “We Will Survive”, this song is such a gem, dedicated to BIG and ‘Pac and this is very difficult for me to listen to and I almost shed tears each time I hear it for two reasons:

1.“What up Big?/
You know shit is rough after you slid/ 
You in God's hands now, keep a place for me kid


2. “Dear 'Pac/
Every thug sheds a tear drop../
You was more than just the wildest nigga/
“2Pacalypse”, I understand your style nigga/”

...........yea it’s tough. The emotion is felt, the words are meaningful and it’s an all around raw and vulnerable track. At first, I didn’t understand why a tribute was made so long after they both passed away, but anyone who knows the background story to this album would know, it was originally intended as an autobiography, and in that case it makes sense. Both BIG and Pac played a vital role in Nas’ life, therefore having this track on here is very fitting. Trackmasters is responsible for the production which is amazing. A sample from “This Is It” by Kenny Loggins is used, which is incredibly fitting and just emphasizes the emotional component of the song. This is easily one of the best tracks on this album and of course one of my favorites.

I always wondered what it would sound like to have Nas on a track with someone like Scarface and sure enough, “Favor For A Favor” would show that. These two are powerhouses and its evident in the lyrics. The beat, the chorus, the flow of this song, their voices...everything about it works to highlight the intensity. Scarface and Nas have such different styles to their delivery and flow, but this is a great collaboration for the street gangster content Nas was going for. Once again, well thought out, well executed and truly a great track.

Of course another DJ Premier track would be another one of my favorites, so yes, “Nas Is Like” makes the list! I love this for the comparisons, the metaphors and once again the vivid imagery. The entire song is like gangster poetry at its finest and it works so well. Overall, this is perfectly put together, I love the instrumental accompaniment as much as I love the use of his own samples. Premier kills it on this just like he does on every track he touches. These two are godly and if the first two tracks on this album didn’t convince you, this one should!

One song that I started off liking, but sort of became lackluster is “Money Is My Bitch”, as conceptually it’s cool, but it had been done before. Lyrically its not impressive, and it lacks originality. As for coherence to the album and to the song itself,  it also falls short. With the running theme of gangster life and the constant overuse of “hoe” and “bitch”, it seems like he’s trying way too hard, it’s a reach unlike any other. The beat is way too “bright” and positive sounding (that’s the only way I can explain it).. they don’t match and create a disconnect. I think Trackmasters should have done a way grimier beat to create a darker more street feeling, maybe something that Mobb Deep would use, but nothing here works for content of the song. It’s a bit thrown together and I can’t take it seriously. At all. As much as I like this album, I can do without this song.

I only highlighted a few, but in all honesty of the 16 tracks, I think it’s safe to say 14 of them are great. I didn’t mention the tracks with DMX and Aaliyah, but those are also dope and add to the highlights on this album. Nas is excellent, in fact he’s even beyond that so I think as fans, we’re always a little harder on him. He’s extremely consistent lyrically and always manages to pair up with MC’s and producers that allow him and his albums to shine, so I’m very forgiving when some of his tracks come up short. “I Am...” is heavily underrated and gets a ton of criticism, but I feel it’s only that way because it came after 2 of his best works. He’s still a genius and still one of the top 3 MC’s of all time. “Nas is like.. half man half amazing..No doubt.."

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-While my memories of this album aren't the fondest, it had more great and really good moments than bad. The album creates a bit of a story that allows Nas to be at his most creative. What works here is really good. What doesn't work here just missed the mark. Nas doesn't fail with this album and when it's looked back on, it's remember as a solid addition to his catalog, one of the top ones at least. Let's remember this rally good album for what it is.



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