DAR Hip Hop: The Good & Bad Of Nas' NASIR Album

By @TrueGodImmortal

Before I start this article, let me just explain that I'm personally a huge fan of Nas and his music. If I had to pick an artist to label the greatest of all time, I would likely choose Nas objectively due to his catalog, his lyrical ability, and more. With that being said, I recognize that Nas is flawed as a MC sometimes, and that his mistakes have probably harmed his legacy on a very minimal level. For many, Nas made a mistake with the release of his most recent album NASIR, which is entirely produced by Kanye West, as the buzz and reviews from the album were mostly mixed. Some loved it, some hated it, some liked it, some thought it was a disappointment. As with any new album, you need to give it time to marinate to fully appreciate and take the time to understand the quality and the replay value. With that said, today I wanted to take a look at this new NASIR album and discuss the good and bad of it. Is NASIR a great addition to the Nas catalog? Let's take a look.

1. Not For Radio (featuring Puff Daddy and 070 Shake)
2. Cops Shot The Kid (featuring Kanye West)
3. White Label
4. Bonjour (featuring Tony Williams)
5. Everything (featuring The-Dream and Kanye West)
6. Adam And Eve (featuring The-Dream)
7. Simple Things

There are two ways to look at this album. For one, let me start off by saying this album is a disappointment. Nas, at his best, is still lyrically head and shoulders above the rest and that's in tact on this album, but what is his motivation now as an artist? There were some who were disappointed by his lack of addressing the allegations and discussion relayed about him by his ex wife Kelis, but Nas already addressed her and their situation throughout the Life Is Good album. So, if you feel that Nas doesn't shine a light on the personal side of his life in this album, that's fine, but what would he gain from addressing a situation he touched on heavily 6 years ago? There are new perspectives, new focus, and this is clearly a different version of Nas. Which leads me back to my point of this album being a disappointment. When Nas made a video for the song he released on DJ Khaled's album "Nas Album Done", things were buzzing. The video was popular, the song would spawn remixes and excite fans who wanted to hear new Nas music. Rumors persisted about the release of the album for at least a year, with names like Madlib, Alchemist, and more being labeled as producers that Nas was working with on the album. At one point, Rick Ross was linked to the album as a possible executive producer to help with beat selection as well. The months came and went and there was nothing at all released about the album, not a title, not a cover, not a tracklist, nothing. It wasn't until Kanye West tweeted about a Nas album in April that we knew anything about what was to come and when Kanye tweeted about it, especially after the controversy he had been in, many were rightfully skeptical.

Kanye has honestly been on a fall since the days of Graduation. While many love MBDTF, and it is a really good album, the rest of his work pales in comparison to his first three albums, and some of them are downright horrible. With albums like Yeezus and TLOP, Kanye seemed to lose his footing musically, so essentially, when it was announced that he would produce a Nas album, many felt like we could be in for a disappointing project. Well, NASIR isn't disappointing from one perspective, but it is disappointing from the central perspective. After 6 years, the appeal of a Nas album was to hear him over production that we always wanted to. Perhaps Madlib could contribute. Perhaps Alchemist could contribute. Maybe even DJ Premier could contribute. Perhaps some lesser name but high quality producers could contribute, but nothing about the Nas album talk screamed out "Kanye West produces the entire thing", because why would we want that? The concept of a one producer and one rapper album is excellent..... when that producer is not Kanye West. This isn't an attempt to knock Kanye for his vision, but just to let it be known that Kanye has a tendency to be overbearing on projects that he produces in full. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and in the case of NASIR, it has instances of both.

For me, my biggest disappointment for this project going in was that it was 7 songs and entirely produced by Kanye. It felt like a step back for an artist in his 24th year in the game, it felt like an honest copout by Nas, choosing to fall under the Kanye umbrella of releases, instead of doing his own thing as many fans hoped and expected. Regardless, this 7 song album produced by Kanye arrived and as the album begins, you don't know what to expect or unfold. How does NASIR actually sound?

"Not For Radio" is the opening track and it is amazing from start to finish, minus the Puffy adlibs that take away from the meaning and feel of the song. That is probably the problem with this very short album. With such a short tracklist, the margin for error should be much different and Nas should want only the best for his songs at all costs. Bringing in Puffy for pointless adlibs does nothing to help the song, and it really just stands as a pointless addition to an otherwise perfect song. Still, it takes away from what Nas brings lyrically and he comes out of the gate with elite lyricism over the smooth Kanye production that begins the album. Here is a snippet of the lyricism Nas is bringing from the start:

"Black Kemet gods, black Egyptian gods/
Summoned from heaven, blessed, dressed in only Goyard
Homie go hard like Stone and/ Robert in a stolen car/
Shoot the ballot box, no voter cards, they all are frauds/
Senegal's finest, minerals, diamonds/
The Earth is cursed but I survive many climates/
Calm and thoroughly, they try to Hyman Roth me/
John Fitzgerald me, the industry never bought me/"

This song is the beginning of the album, and it feels epic. The production carries it through the slightly weak hook by 070 Shake of "I think they scared of us", but Nas doesn't let up one bit in terms of lyricism. He manages to bring the fire in the second verse, which of course, many have written off as "hotep style" rhetoric, but regardless, the entire second verse is a dizzying lyrical display that at the very least, makes you google some of what he said:

"To Catholics, Moors and Masons/
John Hanson was not the first black pres to make it/
Abe Lincoln did not free the enslaved/
Progress was made 'cause we forced the proclamation/
SWAT was created to stop the Panthers/
Glocks were created for murder enhancement/
For hunting men, circumstances/
Edgar Hoover was black/
Willie Lynch is a myth, Colombians created crack/
The government made stacks/
Reagan had Alzheimer's, that's true/
Fox News was started by a black dude, also true/
Convinced my experiences were meant to be/
Helps me navigate as they validate they treachery/
Felt established, fake as he smile, handshake questionable/
Am I good, he ask, thinkin', But is he testin' you/"

While "Not For Radio" is a great start to the album, there are other highlights as well throughout the tracklist that stick out for me. There is simplistic greatness in a song like the Tony Williams featured "Bonjour", which isn't a dizzying lyrical performance by any stretch of the imagination, but just flows smoothly, largely in part to the production, which is minimal, relying solely on the drums and what sounds like keyboard and piano strikes to drive it home. I've heard a few people actually disregard this song and say it is filler, but it is definitely not. The song features Nas in a mode we haven't seen since perhaps the Street's Disciple and Hip Hop Is Dead era, and he seems to be enjoying himself for the most part. Lyrically, this song isn't anything special, but Nas still manages to drop a slight gem that really sets a tone for the song overall:

"All these beautiful places, but the cities be poor/
You wealthy when your kid's upbringin' better than yours/
All this money we gettin' could be gone in a minute/
If we don't invest it/
We long-term affected/
Watch who you gettin' pregnant, that's long-term stressin/"

Aside from "Bonjour", there are other highlights of course, and some that perhaps are highlights but still slightly disappoint in their own way. For instance, many people are fond of the high energy "Cops Shot The Kid", which features Kanye rapping as well and a Slick Rick sample that is excellent, and starts with a Richard Pryor audio clip, but I can see how someone might not be too high on it. The old school style drum pattern and the verses from both Nas and Kanye leave you wanting a little more, but Nas does make sure to provide some perspective with a few lines in his verse that definitely drives home the purpose of the song:

"Together we'll be strong, but forever we divide/
So y'all are blowin' my high/
Type of shit that's killin' my vibe/
White kids are brought in alive/
Black kids get hit with like five/
Get scared, you panic, you're goin' down/
The disadvantages of the brown/
How in the hell the parents gon' bury their own kids, not the other way around/"

I like this song a lot, but in a way, I think it is a letdown for a number of reasons. Nas doesn't have more than one verse, and his verse is rather straightforward and not nearly as intricate as we know he can be in his music. I remember hearing the beat come on, looking at the time left on the song, and seeing Kanye as a featured artist and already let it set in that this is pretty much a song that will not provide anything heavy. The message is clear and while it is nice to hear Kanye featured on this track with a different perspective than what his forced politics relayed, but I could think of some many artists who would have been better on the song besides Kanye. This is the issue with having a Kanye produced album in a way, he has a tendency to make his presence felt outside of just the production. Regardless, Kanye and Nas do a decent job on this song and if they were to release a video from this album, I think this would likely be the one to go with.

I had a bit of a mixed feeling on "Everything" when I first heard it. Perhaps most fans are victims of their own expectations, and that's likely my issue especially with my favorites, but ideally, a pivotal song on a Nas album would not open with slightly off-key singing from Kanye West and The-Dream, before leading into greatness from Nasir himself. That was the issue for me initially, but once you look beyond who is featured and the singing, this is elite lyricism from Nas and exactly what I wanted from him as a fan. As a listener, soaking in the lyricism alongside a very simple production with booming drums and a resounding melody was special, because Nas doesn't miss at all from a lyrical standpoint on this song. He comes right out of the gate with amazing wordplay and paints a picture like only he can:

"Irrefutable facts/
Merciful, beautiful black/
Beloved brother, you fail to embarrass him/
Harassin' him, to my life, your life pales in comparison/
So go write whatever blog/ Messiness is not ever the God/
Do what's necessary/
I'm never worried/
Listen vultures/
I've been shackled by Western culture/
You convinced most of my people to live off emotion/
That's why we competin'/
Death by the chrome barrel, forgot the secrets/
My Kilimanjaro bone marrow's the deepest/
You can peep at the comments, but don't fall for that/
We want freedom, I'm a scholar, an almanac/
People do anything to be involved in everything, inclusion is a hell of a drug/
Some people have everything they probably ever wanted in life
And never have enough/"

Nas really has such a crisp delivery on that song, and he flows with a really smooth style on this production that it might be his best flow on the entire album. While there is a part of me that wishes he would have used Tony Williams or a different singer for the hook and bridge, the more I hear the song, the more Kanye and Dream don't bother me so much. Nas takes a different route with his second and third verses, touching on vaccinations in the second verse, which has surprisingly got a lot of flack from people and led to some people being angry at Nas for this perspective. While I won't post the actual lyrics, I do find it rather odd that people are so adamantly in favor of multiple vaccines, and the concept of Nas even perhaps questioning it is met with such a backlash. That definitely would lead us to a different conversation for a different day, but regardless, the purpose of Nas putting this in his verse seems not to entirely question it, but paint the picture of how parents introduce their child to pain essentially with their first shot, but have little knowledge of what the actual side effects could be. The third verse of the song is filled with amazing imagery and is a great way to end with a vintage Nas verse of vividness and if I were to rank the song on this short album, "Everything" would probably be the best lyrical display for Nas from a storytelling and imagery standpoint.

The album's biggest highlight "Adam And Eve", shows some of the best rapping Nas does on the project. His flow is razor sharp, his lyrics are great, and the production is very solid, backed by a decent hook from The-Dream. The song seems to be a favorite for most of the people who have heard the album regardless of their overall opinion, and rightfully so. Nas coasts on the track for the first two verses and delivers, but for me, it is the third verse that shows exactly what Nas is capable of.

"What come first, peace or the paper/
Before I had a piece of paper/ Peace was in my favor/
Before I sat to eat at the table, it had leeches and traitors/
Cut the fat from the meat/
Extract the weak/
Bon appetit/
No bacon, brothers is swine/
It's so hard to trust 'em 'cause my hustle is mine/
It's evident they all the same, with gray hair and still mean muggin'/
Gray hairs of wisdom, that means you seen somethin'/
Say somethin', you stay frontin'/
But these clowns got false crowns, fictitional kings, you broke my heart, Fredo/
You bring this thing of ours down to a fable/
Be advised my guys dyin', enterprisin' at a boss's table/
There's always room at my table/
Insecurities is keepin' you disabled/
All this money to get, is it less time/
They ain't stopped printin' money, 'cause they made mine/
I learned to stretch time/
These are the best times/
I'm in my neighborhood in stadiums, the Mets' kind/"

On the negative side of things, there isn't much to speak of honestly, except for the fact that some of the production falls short of what we would like to hear and Nas does have a few lyrical lazy moments throughout. Reports of this being a bad album are definitely ridiculous and come mostly from people who are not Nas fans or are just disappointed that they didn't get the album they wanted. That is an understandable position to take honestly, but regardless, the album is not bad overall. One song that definitely falls short however is the final track on the album "Simple Things", which has perhaps the most generic beat on the album and Nas seems to just coast on the song. After 6 years, and only 7 tracks, you would hope every track would blow you away, and perhaps that is where the issue lies with NASIR. Tracks like "Simple Things" do not blow you away, even if you like them. They feel rather dull, which is something that is not normal for a Nas album and at times, it does feel like this album was rushed out due to the dates that Kanye posted himself. I suspect Nas has an entire album written and recorded with other producers that are not Kanye and I sincerely would love to hear it. Another track on the album that has solid production "White Label", somehow managed to fall short, and I cannot pinpoint what it is, but despite not being a bad song technically, it just feels empty. Lyrically, Nas is actually pretty good on it, and Kanye has decent yet slightly lifeless production, but something is missing from the track. I believe a Pusha T feature would have been great here, but regardless, this song is one that doesn't add much to the album and sort of just exists. I will give props to Nas for starting off the track on fire lyrically, but as the song goes on, he sort of stumbles and never regains footing. Still, if I had to point out two songs that fall short overall, "Simple Things" and "White Label" would be the two, despite not being bad songs honestly, just a bit rushed and lazy. So, with that being said, what is the final verdict on NASIR?

For me, the verdict of NASIR is simple: Nas still has it, but perhaps next time around, he can work with Madlib or let Rick Ross pick the beats for his production. Nas and Kanye were a good fit during the Hip Hop Is Dead days, but that was a much different Kanye musically and overall. At this stage of his career, Nas can do whatever he wants, and that's his right, but I definitely wanted more when this project was done. There should be no room for songs that fall short on a 7 song album, but tracks like "Simple Things" and "White Label" do just that in a way, or at least they don't seem to live up to the expectations. NASIR is a good album, it features the best of Nas, but also at times the worst of Nas, though that is very seldom on the record. It does feature some decent Kanye production, but also features production that falls short of what you would hope Kanye could do at this point in his career. Simply put, NASIR leaves you wanting more from Nas..... just not next to Kanye West.



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