US: 15 Jul 2008
UK: 14 Jul 2008
Internet release date: 15 Jul 2008
I find it disappointing that a lot of reviews from other publications have called this out as one of the album’s weaker tracks, like Nas’ whole purpose here was to condemn his suburban white fans for not truly supporting his cause. In my review of the album, I called Untitled Nas’ Blood on the Tracks. I didn’t mean that so much in terms of concept but in terms of career context. If we talk in terms of concept though, “Testify” is this album’s “Idiot Wind”. It’s the frustrated, mournful breakdown of an artist in the midst of an emotionally complex situation.
Mark Batson provides a slow, soulful track for Nas to voice his frustrations in a blunted, stream-of-consciousness sort of way. His lyrics examine hypothetical, worst-case-scenario situations not to doubt the dedication of his sociologically detached fans, but to question whether they even understand what he is trying to accomplish. After stating, “I just burnt my American flag / And sent three cracker Nazis to hell and I’m sad / Uh, I’m loading tefs in my mag / To send these red neck bigots some death in a bag / Choke him out with his confederate flag. I know these devils are mad,” he asks, “Little rap fans that live way out in safe suburbia / Would you stand with me, a United States murderer?” He is not serious in any literal kind of way; he is challenging those who feel like they support his racially charged campaign by asking “If you knew I was that crazy, if I brought this whole statement to that kind of level, what would you do then?” I think what he created began to scare even him.
I’ve read articles that have criticized Nas for fantasizing about killing racist whites on this song. Given the fact that the rest of the album endorses racial harmony, I think his point is more complex than that. When Dylan, singing to his estranged lover on “Idiot Wind”, taunted “You’re an idiot babe / It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe” and later declared “One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzin’ around your eyes”, nobody accused him of misogyny or murderous rage; people understood that the song was a complicated exploration of the range of emotions associated with one of life’s moments of truth. That’s the way I understand “Testify”; it realizes how far bottled-up anger can go.
I don’t think Nas wants to abandon his suburban fans. I think he was simply pondering the fact that so many of them support his controversial cause despite never having experienced the adversities from which it was born. By extension, it feels like Nas is actually questioning his own dedication to what he started.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.