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Top 8 of 08 #8: Nas – Untitled

January 1st, 2009 by | Tags: , ,

I was going to do a Top 10 or whatever for comics that came out in 2008, but realized that I had no interest in explaining to people why Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s run on All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder is better than Grant Morrison’s run on Batman in almost every way or why certain comics just aren’t enjoyable and are in fact Silver Age navel-gazing at best. Instead, I’m stealing a page from Tucker Stone‘s playbook and doing a music countdown instead. I’m doing only eight for 2008, but if you’re curious, numbers nine and ten were NERD’s Seeing Sounds [Explicit] and Ill Bill’s The Hour Of Reprisal [Explicit], respectively. NERD because I’ve loved their sound for years and Everybody Nose/Everybody Nose Remix, Anti-Matter, Sooner or Later, and Spaz are all genuinely excellent songs. Ill Bill has a few great songs, too, most notably White Nigger and the track about his uncle.

The next five weekdays are going to have two posts from me a piece at noon and midnight. On the next to last day, instead of posting my #1, I’ll post a quick top 5 round-up of some free music and then hit y’all with the #1 pick the next day.

Nas’s untitled album had two of the biggest surprises in rap this year.

1. Nas thinks roaches have eight legs.
2. “No homo” was bleeped out of The Game’s verse, the only bit of censorship on the album better known as Nigger.

The first one you can chalk up to a regular old mistake, unless project roaches really do have eight legs (they don’t). The second is interesting in the greater context of the album.

I think that every black person has to, at some point, approach racism, and by extension, reality, with an adult mind. “Racism sucks!” is great and all, but that’s a kindergarten understanding of the issue. If that’s all you have to bring to the table, well, there’s a reason why people make you sit at the kid’s table when grown folks are talking. Have fun playing Connect 4, okay?

Untitled has Nas attacking the issue from various angles with varying levels of success. Fried Chicken is a love song to fried chicken, and has the effect of making me hungry every time I hear it and making you think about all of the stuff we take in all the time. Busta Rhymes’s last four bars put the song into perspective. It’s about fried chicken, but it’s also about sex, love, money, drugs, and everything else. It’s about overkill.

Some of the songs aren’t as great as the others, obviously. Hero and Make the World Go Round, two of the singles off the record, should have been left off the album. They’re generic Nas rhymes at best, and just so-so New York raps at worst. They move too far away from the album’s concept, which basically boils down to “Black in America.” You could make a fair point that flossing is a big part of being black in America, but we’ve all heard those songs before. Give us that new sound.

The production throughout the album is pretty much rock solid, however. Jay Electronica, Salaam Remi, stic.man, DJ Toomp, and Mark Ronson all deliver crazy quality, and the others aren’t too shabby, either. stic.man’s Sly Fox provides a thumping beat for an okay couple of verses from Nas, while whoever produced Proclamation (which I had thought was called Nigger Hatred, a much better title) gave us the best tune on the album to go along with Nas’s best verse.

Proclamation/Nigger Hatred is the introduction to Nas’s Be A Nigger, Too video, and it’s the song that sold me on the album more than anything else. The haunting piano notes and Nas’s understated, but relentless, flow perfectly complements the beat even as it introduces where Nas is coming from. It’s kind of Untitled in miniature, as he revisits themes from this song throughout the album. The open-ended final line (“The nerve of y’all to call Escobar racist… nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger hatred”) is the kind of thing that doesn’t say much, but forces you to think about the statement– what’s he getting at? Is he saying that saying nigger, in and of itself, is a racist act? Or is he talking about context?

I can say that I liked Untitled. I think it’s at least 4 mics, if not 4 and a half. When Nas is on, which is most of the album, he’s excellent. When he’s off, he’s just mediocre. This album could’ve gone either way, and while I would’ve liked if he’d left its original name, he did good here. It’s not as great as it could have been, but that’s great expectations for you. At the very least, one of the most commercially acceptable rappers out put out an album that’s going to force you to think, at least a little bit, about the subject matter.

Official videos:
Be A Nigger, Too
Hero
Make the World Go Round
Y’all My Niggas (I really like this one, but I dunno if it’s official)
Sly Fox

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