Nasir Jones has been on earth for nearly half a century - that’s a long life span for a rapper. Nas has been in the hip-hop scene since he was in his teens and those who knew him regarded him as a young urban monk poet. Nas’ debut album, ‘Illmatic’, released when he was 20 was both blessed and cursed by critics. After almost 30 years, “Illmatic” is still treated with much affection and reverence. The command it receives in the hip-hop world is akin to “The Catcher In the Rye”, and “King Lear”.
In the years following “Illmatic”, Nas’ creation has been described as capricious, reckless to contradictory. He has refused to be pigeon-holed into an idealised rapper his fans have of him. He wanted to make mistakes for creative freedom and he did. His boldness and sometimes inconsistent output made his fans love him more. In this post, we explore some of Nas’ gems and duds.
“Magic” is Nas’ fifteenth album outing and his third collaboration with producer Hit-Boy. Like his previous two albums, it contained mainly of Hit-Boy beats. As usual, Nas’ lyricism and electric energy are on proud display in “Magic”. His energy and tremendous rhythm can be felt on tracks like ‘Meet Joe Black’ and ‘Hollywood Gangsta’. He was also able to incorporate sounds both new and old in tracks such as ‘Wave Gods’ to a more lively sound in ‘Wu For the Children’. “Magic” may be ranked among the upper echelon of Nas’ albums but according to Pitchfork’s review, Magic is backwards-facing and despite its charm, it feels as if Nas is revisiting his own gospels resentfully.
King’s Disease (2020)
It took twelve albums for Nas to finally bag a Grammy win. “King’s Disease” is Nas’s first full-length album since 2012. He revisits his formative years in the 80s to the 90s with lucid storytelling in quarter-verse vignettes. “King’s Disease” is followed by its sequel “King’s Disease II”, supported by the excellent production team of Corbett and Hit-Boy.
It Was Written (1996)
“It Was Written” was Nas’ follow-up to his debut “Illmatic”. Although it was a disappointment to his fans, “It Was Written” opened at number 1 on the Billboard albums chart and came to be regarded as the rapper’s second-best album. The track ‘The Message’ may have a colder feel than any of the tracks on “Illmatic”, yet it boosts stunning storytelling and was cited as one of the most visually evocative songs of Nas’ career. Nas showed in the song that he could rap over mechanised beats without becoming a mechanised rapper.
“Illmatic” is one Nas album that is devoid of any duds. ‘NY State of Mind’ is a song so potent if this was the only song on the album, it would be enough to justify Nas as an all-time great. No words are wasted in this rap album and few songs ever produced have ever shown such respect for, and an understanding of the English language. “Illmatic” is definitely one of Nas’ best works and if this album were a novel, he would be considered a great author of our time.
All the thunder on the album “Stillmatic” is stolen by the track ‘Ether’, in his attempt to take down ‘Gay-Z and Cockafella Records’. But in truth, the song ‘One Mic’ has a better rhythm and the pulse of the song overtakes ‘Ether’. In “One Mic”, Nas’ range starts with a scream and ends with a whisper at the end of every stanza. The rap song is built with tension and then released in an extreme fashion. The biggest dud on this album is ‘Braveheart Party’, which even Mary J. Blige asked to remove from subsequent pressings of “Stillmatic”.