What do you get when you combine the politically charged flow of Nas with the chopped-up production style of Kanye West? The seeds for mastery.
Kanye West produced five albums this summer with his G.O.O.D Music colleagues. Of these G.O.O.D. Music releases, perhaps the quickest to be dismissed was the long-awaited album “Nasir.” Critics slammed “Nasir” for a lack of storytelling and thematic inconsistency.
We’ve grown too familiar with the redundant themes in mainstream hip-hop. Our tastes are accustomed to the hedonistic lifestyles glamorized by the genre’s most prominent artists.
Mainstream hip-hop has lost touch with its roots. What was once an honest articulation of class struggle has now become a commodity, losing its ability to shake up the status quo and leaving listeners unsettled.
“Nasir,” however, is an attempt to bring honesty back to the genre.
Nas perhaps says it best when he raps, “And who y’all comparing me to is nonsense / Show gratitude in the presence of dominance.”
Nas’s grand return may not be welcome right now, but rather than juxtapose the former King of the East with his peers’ narratives, let’s focus on the topics Nas chooses to highlight in “Nasir.” Police brutality, vaccinations, conspiracy theories and his place in the industry’s own “rat race.”
The album clocks in at 26 minutes, but it feels much longer. Kanye West’s instrumentals propel each head-scratching lyric into the eardrums and deliver them with a power that Nas’s verses struggle to match.
Mostly occupied by reflecting on his now-complacent lifestyle and money management, the honesty feels absent from his verses. However, there are moments where longtime fans will hear glimpses of classic Nas.
Lines such as, “What you love could kill you, like a heart physician dying of a heart attack,” cut like knives.
In “Everything,” Nas boasts about buying the land once owned by people who enslaved his ancestors, but the message is lost as he lists off conspiracy theories, such as “Fox News was started by a black dude,” and “Willie Lynch was a myth.” These lyrics confuse the listener, since some are certifiably false and others true. However, this may be Nas’s intention: to keep us asking questions, checking our sources and thinking for ourselves.
This album was not critically acclaimed, nor did it shake the genre in the fashion of Nas’s debut album “Illmatic,” but it is still a noteworthy attempt. West’s production is positively stellar, and the album tackles topical issues in typical Nas fashion.
Surrounded by negative reviews and not included on the popular hip-hop rotation, it is important to still recognize what the album actually is: a charged surge of refined criticism, skepticism and the desolate reflection of a former king, now dethroned by the genre he helped cultivate.