Rating: 9 / 10
Reviewer: DJ MF
This is the one. Do or die. The album that will determine whether Nas will maintain (get back?) his relevance in the world of hip hop music. Stakes are high, as a certain hip hop group once proclaimed.
Except this time, it ain’t the usual…you know, Nas battling his own inability to recreate “Illmatic”. Sure that will always be hanging over his head, but this time, there’s the added bonus of beef simmering all over New York, and in his own backyard, Queensbridge.
Beef normally wouldn’t make or break a career, but this is a special case. Ask me, and I’d say that if Nas doesn’t come back with a dope album in response to the track ‘Takeover’ by Jay-Z, he’ll become a has-been.
Wasting no time, Nas gets rid of the Jay-Z issue with the smoking hot ‘Ether’. While ‘Takeover’ is a good diss track, this is just on another level of vitriol completely. To be honest, I didn’t think that Nasir had it in him. But DAMN, he rips the reigning “King of New York” with some brutal and honest lines.
“Is it Dame Diddy, Dame Daddy, or Dame Dummy?
Oh, I get it, you Biggie and he’s Puffy
Rocafeller died of AIDS, that’s the end of his chapter
And that’s the guy y’all chose to name your company after?
Put it together
I Rock Ho’s, y’all Rock Fellas
And now y’all try to take my spot fellas?”
The lead single ‘Got Yourself A Gun’ follows, sporting a fairly mediocre beat in my view. It’ll probably be loved to death, but I think it’s a bit too generic. Like I’ve heard it before somewhere. However, the lyrics again, are on another level. I’m REALLY feeling Nas on this one, as he takes you on a trip through his career, from “Illmatic” to today. Ill.
‘ Everybody’s Crazy’ is next, and again, I can’t say I’m feeling the beat too much. Check that, not at all. There’s a nice enough spacy effect in the background, but other than that, it’s a flat beat. On the plus side, it let’s you hear Nas loud and clear, and again, he comes correct, with a couple of different stories about some messed up sh*t in the hood. The imagery here is on par with anything that anyone can put out there today.
A track I’ve heard before, ‘You’re The Man’, follows, and we finally get to a beautiful beat, with a mournful flute riding a fast paced syncopated drum pattern. This sounds like something that could have been on “Illmatic”. Not only that, but once again, Nas does the track justice with some great introspective lyrics on his life, where he is now, and how others in his situation haven’t made out like he has. Great stuff.
A shorter track is next, clocking in at just over 2 minutes, with ‘Rewind’, and this has an old-school feel to it… I’m talking late 80’s. It’s actually a pretty dope beat. And once again, I know I’m sounding like a broken record, Nas comes correct, again eschewing the materialistic stuff that he’s become dependent on, and doing a concept track here. The idea is that he’s telling a story backwards, Memento style, with the ending coming first, and the beginning coming last. Nice.
The buzz inspiring ‘One Mic’ is next, and features a quiet beat, with some synths, and Nas almost whispering his early verses. Again, something that would sound at home on “Illmatic”. The nice part of this track is the way that Nas whispers to start, and then starts to raise the tone, until he gets to almost full out yelling. And even better, the beat follows this progression, increasing in crescendo as he does…until it all just stop again at the chorus. To say I love this track would be an understatement. Awe-inspiring, and one of the best tracks he’s ever done.
Things get funky with the next track, ‘2nd Childhood’, featuring some nice scratching, and a rubbery funk bassline. This is some vintage storytelling from Nas here, as he reminisces over his childhood, and the times he had. I’ll go out on a limb and guess this is a Primo beat too, with the gorgeous scratched chorus, and the oh-so familiar drums. Another winner.
A pretty controversial track is up next, ‘Destroy And Rebuild’. The concept? Nas clearing his home, Queensbridge, of all the fake and wannabe MC’s, and rebuilding the tradition of QB on his own. Of course, the shots at Cormega are here, as you’d expect, and damn he rips into him pretty hard, with some pretty truthful barbs, including the apparent infatuation that Mega has with him (check any of the seemingly 100’s of Nas disses Mega has done). And then, the bomb drops – he goes after Prodigy too. Half-heartedly mind you, but still, after all the Jay-Z drama, this surprised me a ton, as he accuses P of dissing him subliminally, and of not representing QB properly. Can’t forget the Nature diss to. A surprising track, with the added bonus that it’s pretty hype.
Things get back to normal with ‘The Flyest’, over an orchestral sounding beat, and a chorus that uses a pretty hideous R&B styled chorus, which proclaims Nas “the flyest gangsta”. Ugh. On the plus side, AZ guests on this track, and shows the goodness that he exhibited on his latest LP. Probably the only skipper so far.
The brutal Braveheart clique returns from their ‘Oochie Wally’ success for the next track, ‘Braveheart Party’. Ugh. This is some blatant club stuff here, but I can’t front on the beat, which uses Caribbean influences, and some pretty smooth chorus vocals. Does its job I suppose, as a soon to be club banger, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
After that bad taste in my mouth, ‘Rule’ comes in to make things even worse, utilizing the Tears For Fears ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’. Ugh. This type of track always sucks, and always will. That’s doesn’t mean that the lyrics aren’t dope, because they are, and Nas has a great message here, preaching peace, understanding, and love… but… the sample kills me.
‘My Country’ comes in next to save the day, with a great beat, and some great lyrics. First the beat – it uses a maricahi flavored guitar lick over a pretty dark bassline. Nice. And then the lyrics – Nas flips it nicely again, describing the horribleness of living in the ghetto, and how it seems like the US is racist against people of colour. A powerful song.
The final track, ‘Poison’, again uses a guitar sample, again some acoustic ish. All of a sudden the beat jumps in, and Nas is once again in full conscious mode, rapping about all the different forms of poison in the world today- drugs, guns, schools, medicine, religion, even fast food. A very thought-provoking track actually.
But wait – that ain’t the last track. There’s a bonus – ‘Every Ghetto’. The beat is a little to glitzy for me, but surprise surprise, Nas comes correct again, spitting some deep verses about life in the ghetto again, and the struggles of youth trying to escape it. Someone’s guesting here, but without liners, damned if I know who it is.
Anyways, a dope ender.
So, the verdict? I gotta give a thumbs up. This is the best album that Nas has released since “Illmatic”, by a MILE. There are definitely some weak beats on here, and of course the blatant commercial track, but the lyrics (except for the commercial track) are 100% on point amazing. Lyrics wise, this is close to being on par with what was done on “Illmatic”, and that alone should be enough to make longtime Nas followers rejoice.
So will this outsell Jiggas “The Blueprint”? Probably not.
Is it better? Most definitely.
Nas has created one of the most introspective and conscious albums I’ve heard in a long time with “Stillmatic”, and not only that, it’s an album that can stand up to his past classic.