When you’re hot, you’re hot. After swimming in commercial mediocrity for years, Nas continues to ride the wave of success generated by a well publicized feud with Jay-Z, his questionable association with Irv Gotti’s Murder Inc., and his strong fifth album, Stillmatic, by releasing Lost Tapes. On this collection of outtakes, mix tape mainstays, and street hits, Nas gives compelling evidence that he is again rap’s lyrical king. From start to finish, Nas sets aside the rhetorical frills, contrived interludes, and mediocre guest appearances that have plagued much of his work since the classic Illmatic and concentrates on delivering classic material. Unlike most b-side or remix albums, which are filled with songs that were rightfully left on the cutting room floor, Lost Tapes is composed of songs omitted from I Am, Nastradamus, and Stillmatic for other reasons.
Who is to blame for making us wait so long to have these songs commercially released? The heavy bootlegging that inevitably accompanies the release of hip-hop giants like Nas, Jay-Z, and Eminem is the primary culprit, causing Nas to drastically change his albums to spite bootleggers and recoup street sales. I Am, which was released to lukewarm praise in 1999, would undoubtedly have been closer to what disappointed fans and critics expected from Nas if it had retained tracks like “Fetus”, “Poppa was a Player”, “Drunk By Myself”, and the street classic “Blaze a 50”, which features Nas at his story telling best, giving us a movie length thriller, filled with sex, drugs, deception, and murder in under four minutes.
As pleasing as Stillmatic was to fans and critics, it would have been closer to the classic Illmatic if it had contained “Doo Rags” and “Purple”. The beautiful “Doo Rags” gives us a window to an honest, reflective, and socially conscious Nasir Jones at his best: “We lost the Vietnam War, intoxicated poisons / Needles in arms of veterans instead of bigger fortunes / We devil incarnates, headed for jail / When Shell gas company in South Africa be havin’ us killed”. The only mystery is how this song didn’t make the final cut on Stillmatic in favor of the hideous “Braveheart Party”.
Unlike other “bootleg and b-side” albums, which contain haphazardly arranged tracks, Lost Tapes maintains a cohesiveness that almost makes you forget that you are not listening to a studio album. With the exception of the preachy, contrived “Black Zombies” and the awful hook on “Everybody’s Crazy” (“Somebody’s gon’ get shot, get robbed, get done, get stomped, get dropped / Ladies love thugs and my thugs love hip-hop / Thugs love ladies and ladies they love hip-hop”), the album is masterfully arranged (under the circumstances) and the songs carefully selected.
Lost Tapes is a necessary addition to the collection of any hip-hop fan. It is doubtful that anyone could be disappointed with this strong compilation of old and new favorites. Although this album is not as fiery as Stillmatic or as brilliant as Illmatic, this album will provide many hours of listening satisfaction.
// Notes from the Road
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