Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Nas the "Untitled" Album

Since this my first post for the Mental Detox I decided to write each week on a specific topic that is currently blowing me away ... most times it will be a piece of music or perhaps a useless piece of information that I deem useful - and try to justify here.

Nas has just released his ninth studio album Untitled and after months of controversy surrounding its true name and content we now get a chance to go over all its corners cuts and smoothed down surfaces. This is not an album review of such from but more of an opinion as what the album means to me and funnily enough our times...

Before we get started lets get a few things straight:

#1: Hip hop is not me "culture" so don't get it twisted
#2: I don't have any vested interest in keeping it real - I keep it surreal
#3: I'm too school for cool

If you don't know who Nas is here's a good place to start. Son of a Jazz player, child of a Queensbridge ghetto landscape with a New York state of mind. During what is now deemed the GOLDEN ERA of hip hop (80s-90's) Nas was a street disciple. With his uncanny knack of capturing images and sewing them together he could give a unique observation into trappings of the projects. Yet as he grew so did creativity and we as an audience were introduced to other sides of Mr Nassir Jones aka ...Kid Wave, Nasty Nas,Escobar, Nastradamus, Godson, N

On his 9th and most daring studio album to date, Nas confronts and pulls apart the indifference's surrounding the word Nigger in all its facets. He goes through the emotion of being a black man in America, rapping with a new found hunger.

From the get go Nas lets go... considering the amount of pressure he was under, whether it was getting shit from the one time Civil Rights leader (and fulltime self appointed spokesperson for ALL Blacks) The Rev Al Sharpton, sanctions from the white house and Walmart, the 'keepitreal" screams of Ethuggin backpackers, blackbackslappers, mean muggin backbitters, crackwhiters and KKKracksnipers you can appreciate what he has managed to accomplish with"Untitled".

In a recent interview with Melle Mel of the hip hop super group The Furious Five when asked his thoughts on others questioning Nas' for titling the album Nigger, he had this to say

Quote: " we all gonna be considered niggers no matter how you look at it.... I think for black people to have an opinion about what comes out the next man's mouth, I think that's awfully white of them"

It is a sad thing when people look to artists for all the answers . This is very much the case for Nas in regards to his whole rap career. But when I listen to the first single "Hero" and the chorus rings out loud in my cans it makes my loose it my fucken mind!!

"Chain gleaming/Switching lanes/Two-seating
Hate him or love him/For the same reason
Can't leave it/The games needs him
Plus the people need someone to believe in
So in Godson we trust'
Cause they know I'm gonna give 'em what they want
They looking for . . . a hero
I guess that makes me . . . a hero"

This song is epic... techno synth pads and a huge 808 kick coupled with the sweet harmonies of new R&B diva Keri Hilson makes this one of the most radio friendly tracks that Nas has flipped in a while. The rush of urgencey in Nas voice over this now classic beat by platinum producer Pollow da Don pushes this song past normal self gratification into a realm where not many can exist. We are all too familiar what may happen to black men in America who go against the wholegrain - it can become a solitary space. Americans are constantly searching for Hero's but it seems they always come from the most unlikely sources. Kids in many black communities look towards rappers as being either role models or parole models. Nas points to this in his verse rapping "If Nas can't say it, think about these talented kids with new ideas being told what they can and can't spit".

In a land where Obama is now the favoured Democrat leader and Kanye West is forever testing the limitations of polarized blackpop on a white backdrop, Congressional politics and street politics are one and the same. On the track "Black President" the hook is sampled off Tupac's line "And though it seems heaven sent,we ain't ready to see a black President " Nas reflects on whether America is ready, and if in fact Obama will be able to solve his country's deeper social and racial problems.

In fact I can honestly say that on every track provided Nas leaves me with an honest open ended discussion of his position as a Nigger in new America. He doesn't try to preach on a pulpit or hide behind studio spuedogangsterisms. I applaud Nas for his consistency and for his choice of people he worked with on this project. People such as Sticman from Dead Prez , the enigmatic Jay Electronica, DJ Toomp of T.I's production fame, and mainstay producer Salaam Remi to name a few. Also a few surprises with vocal contributions from Eban Thomas of the Stylistics, The Last Poets, The Game and Chris Brown ...........

Now a lot of traditionalists are scratching their heads as to why someone like Chris Brown could get on (and I for one am not a big fan of the guy) but let me just say that the song in particular "Make the World Go Round" is pure genius by all parties. Chris absolutely nails his chorus and Nas even calls him the " young Micheal Jackson" while the Game holds more then his own spitting heat like

" 5-0 they catch me at the pro bowl /on the field diamonds choking the jockey on my polo"

Other notable mentions on this album for me right now would be "We're Not Alone" where Nas streams a mix of state paranoia and extraterrestrial conspiracy theorem over haunting melodies courtesy of Sticman once again. I cant recall the last time a mainstream artist rapped about Aliens since Outkast? I mean who has the balls to do this on a song these days?? This album gives Nas a structure to which he can work within. He moves to and fro on each track going from his throwback days of rapping multi conceptual verbatim switching his flow on either side of the 4 bar meter. On other tracks he breathes easy in almost spoken word digressions.

SO thus concludes my blog on the Nigger album... I hope you enjoyed yourselves as much as I did and if you sit around complaining that hip hop ain't what it used to be then don't buy this album ...... go buy a time machine instead and fuck off back to the 90's
Kia Ora

PS Heres the link to Melle Mel's full interview

PPS Here's the songs I mentioned in the blog from Nas album

PEACE, Im out!!