Nasir Jones. Where to begin? Many rap fans love to create their own “Top 5 Dead Or Alive” lists, and Nas is a name that comes up time and time again.
In fact, there aren’t many rappers alive who are hailed as the goat, and Nas certainly holds a strong place in that conversation.
His last project, Nasir, produced by Kanye West, was released in 2018 after a six-year hiatus, and it wasn’t as well-received as one would think for such a prolific duo, with the album dividing opinions.
If you’ve listened to some of Nas’ material in the past (and who hasn’t?), you probably already know that the Queensbridge legend doesn’t shy away from controversial yet important topics, such as the lies told to our children through history books in the introductory track, “King’s Disease”, or the spying by the American government on their people in “The Definition”.
The 46-year-old MC has often attempted to describe the black experience through his rhymes, and with unfortunate racial tensions around the country today, the uplifting “Ultra Black” couldn’t have come at a better time. In “Til The War is Won”, the first Nas track featuring Lil Durk, he continues on the same topic, except this time focusing on the struggles of being a black single mom, with Durk coming through with the melodies to add a little emotion to the mix.
It was certainly a pleasant surprise to see The Firm featured on track 10, the supergroup featuring Nas who only ever released one album, now twenty-three years ago, which turned out to be a commercial disaster. If you’re a 90s boom-bap fan, this is the track for you. That AZ verse is something truly special. This certainly makes you wonder what The Firm album in 1997 could’ve been if Dr. Dre’s Aftermath hadn’t forced pop-orientated production on a mafioso concept album. But that’s a whole other discussion.
When the tracklist was first released, it was a little disappointing to see so many features, but in reality, these do not feel like they are overloading the album at all. Rather, the artists Nas has chosen to feature greatly complement the overall sound of the album.
“Hit-Boy on the beat? This shit supposed to slap”
This might be coming from a rap purist’s point of view, but it was initially great to hear that the body of work would be produced exclusively by Grammy-winning producer Hit-Boy. There’s just something so pure about an MC and a producer getting together in the stu and cooking up an entire project together, and you can feel the chemistry between both artists throughout with an album that is as cohesive as sonically beautiful. Perhaps the Los Angeles producer said it best himself: We wasn’t in there like, “Oh, you Hit-Boy, I’m Nas. We gonna make just anything.” Nah, like this sh*t really shines, it’s spiritual. So, we’re gonna see, in time, what happens with it.” The production by new-school producer Hit-Boy is a great bridge between old and new, with gritty boom-bap samples intertwined with bass lines more reminiscent of today’s trap music.
To finish off the 12-track album (minus the bonus track), Nasir looks back on his life with pure honesty, criticizing the glamorization of the streets and the mainstream industry for claiming he should “modernize” his music.
Obviously, it’s not the gritty Nas of the 90s; you can certainly feel the OG’s old age in this album, and we mean that with the utmost respect, with life lessons full of maturity and wisdom taught through the hardship and mistakes in the “seven lives” the master MC claims he has already lived, tackling subjects such as scorned relationships and the black experience in America today. Nasir Jones is unapologetically himself, and he no longer has anything to prove, which is certainly felt throughout this body of work. The longevity in this man’s career is nothing short of amazing, and with “27 summers” since Illmatic dropped, the QB legend still has something to say.
Stream “King’s Disease” by Nas:
Watch the official music video to “Ultra Black”: