Music

Nas Is Ineffective and Ungrounded on 'NASIR'

Photo: Video still

On NASIR, Nas is completely overshadowed by the musical performances of Kanye West and his collaborators.

NASIR
Nas

Mass Appeal / Def Jam

15 June 2018

Kids See Ghosts, the self-titled collaboration between Kanye West and Kid Cudi, was the peak of West's five-installment Ye Season, both chronologically and in excellence. It took full advantage of the seven-track format, bringing cohesion and life to each and every track. After receiving near universal acclaim, the follow-up album required something near perfection to live up to its predecessor. Well, Ye gave it a good shot, recruiting Nas, a rapper who already reached perfection 24 years ago with Illmatic.

The resulting album entitled Nasir continues a current trend of using given names as opposed to stage names to represent vulnerability and convey personal stories. Kanye already went this route with the shortened ye two weeks earlier; Royce da 5'9" released the deeply personal Book of Ryan last month; and Beyonce and Jay-Z released their surprise album Love Is Everything under the joint name the Carters. These names endear us to the artists and remind us that they're just people who have personal stories, and often, those speak to us the best. At least, that's what you would hope for with a so-named album.

Nasir, however, begins on quite a different note on "Not For Radio", where Nas's paranoia about some ambiguous enemy wanting to "Hyman Roth" or "John Fitzgerald" him completely ignores the violence his ex-wife Kelis has accused him of. In a genre that tends to talk very candidly and quickly about different allegations and beefs within the community, his silence on the matter throughout the album is troubling.

Besides this, Nas continues to delve into weird facts and conspiracy theories both confusing and mostly false such as "SWAT was created to stop the Panthers" (the term SWAT is two years older than the Panthers), "Edgar Hoover was black" (no), and "Fox News was started by a black dude" (also no). It's a bizarre verse that uses conspiracy theories to make the point that racism stems from fear, fear which according to Diddy in the outro should exist: "That's why they feel uncomfortable around us / 'Cause of our greatness / You're lucky God made us compassionate." It's hard to keep track of the mixed signaling from this album, and we've only gotten through the opening track.

Throughout the rest of the record, Nas's Godfather-esque mafia persona continues, as he raps about the sophisticated life, wealth, and excess. And despite many linking a Kanye West tweet about the seven deadly sins to Nasir, there seems to be no remorse for the gluttony, greed, and pride that fill its bars. Instead, Nas is more focused on the money than his kids as he offers faux-proverbs on "Bonjour": "All this money we gettin' could be gone in a minute / If we don't invest it, we long-term affected / Watch who you getting' pregnant, that's long-term stressin'." This references Nas's long battle with Kelis over child support payments and doesn't offer much consideration for the human life he brought into this world.

It's unfortunate how ineffective and ungrounded Nas is here since the production Kanye poured into each track is stellar. His loop of Slick Rick's "Children's Story" is easily the best moment of the album. And despite the lyrical missteps on "everything", the choral arrangements and vocals by the-Dream are goosebump-inducing. Additionally, unexpected star of ye 070 Shake returns to deliver again on "Not For Radio" over a booming percussion track. The musical performances by West and his collaborators alone are able to save Nasir from total disaster and do warrant a listen. But as for Nas, he's left completely overshadowed.

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