N A S
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Nastradamus - **
Stillmatic - *** 1/2
It looks like Nas has completed his transformation from street poet to second rate Puff Daddy impersonator on this album. The creative decline of his career over the last decade is more or less reflective of general trends in rap music. While the early 90's saw the rise of hip hop lyricists like Biggie Smalls, Tupac, and all the members of Wu Tang Clan, the late 90's have given us unoriginal R&B radio bullshit like Nelly and Sisqo. The general decline of rap music however is no excuse for this shit. Half of this album isn't even rap. It's either substandard poetry by some random ghetto fruits or what Wu Tang Clan referred to on their second album as "weak shit with some wack ass R&B nigga singing on the loop". The album tracks that actually are rap contain none of the visceral street imagery and narratives that made Nas a great MC. Instead they are mostly relegated to the standard cookie cutter "we got more guns and y'all niggas is bitches" posturing of the worst kind. Does anyone honestly believe that Nas has all those guns and is a killer. Nas is a killer like Ja Rule and Puffy are killers. And do I need to go into detail about how ironic it is to hear Nas verbally attack people for not "repping QB" right, when it's so obvious that he completely sold out his roots for mass appeal on the last two albums. And don't even get me started on this Barvehearts shit either. Nastradamus gets two stars because despite its own worst intentions, flashes of brilliance (i.e. Life We Chose and Come Get Me) do appear once in a while like the occasional moment of clarity in an Alzheimer's patient, reminding the listener that Nas is a great MC when he is trying. Unfortunately he's not trying, and so much of this album is done on auto pilot that these moments are few and far between. The one standout track here is Shoot Em Up, a hard edged narrative of murder and betrayal set to the theme of that Christmas carol with all the voices. Project Windows also gets points for its dark portrayal of life growing up in the ghetto, and for featuring live vocals by Ron Isley instead of the same canned R&B shit used on the rest of this album. These songs make me feel a little better about buying this CD, but I can't recommend that anyone else buy this album. Nostradamus may have been completely insane but his writings are far more original and entertaining than anything here, and his name deserves better than this. I doubt even he could have predicted that Nas would sell out this quick. What a fucking waste of talent.
Reviewed: February, 2003
Listening to Stillmatic it's sometimes hard to tell whether this is a mostly good album with a couple of weak spots or a mostly weak album with a couple of good spots. Given the perspective of a few months listening time, I'm inclined to go with the former. While it's not on the level of the early classics, this CD definitely improves upon anything Nas has released since 1996. It's a victory of substance over style and a return to form that is rewarding to hear. After years of being over produced and weighed down by too many weak R&B choruses and guest appearances, Nas has finally gone back to being an MC first and foremost. The spark that re-ignited Nas' career was his war with Jay Z, referenced in no fewer than 3 songs on this album. It's ironic that it took an attack on his credibility and relevance to knock Nas out of his complacent stupor long enough for him to regain both. It's evident from the start that he's pissed off. The first few album tracks waste no time in verbally destroying Jay Z and his entire crew with lyrics that are genuinely entertaining and hilarious. Nas not only attacks his sexuality (gay z and cockafella records), but also takes the time to make fun of his Hawaiian shirts, fat lips, and old age (thirty six in a karate class, I'll still whip your ass, you tae bo ho). The verbal assaults continue throughout the album, particularly on Destroy and Rebuild where he names the rappers that have betrayed him and singles each one out for retribution. MC battles are always good for entertainment value and this one is no exception. Nas seems to take pleasure in pointing out the weaknesses of his opponents and does so with the conviction of a man who is truly on the ropes and battling for his career. Elsewhere on the album, the focus seems to be on raw MC skills and lyrical dexterity. There's actually a song where the entire narrative is told in reverse order so the end of the song is the beginning of the story. A lesser MC would have choked on a concept like this, but Nas uses it as an opportunity to show off how fucking good of a rapper he really is. As I mentioned before, there are a couple of weak spots, where it's obvious that Nas is still struggling. These aren't necessarily entire songs (although Bravehart Party is pretty much horrible), but rather weak spots within otherwise good songs. The hook on Smokin for example is dumb shit that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Nastradomous. Same with the chorus on the otherwise excellent Destroy and Rebuild, just annoying and dumb. And of course there is no shortage of other rappers, most notably Bravehearts, to take up time that would better be devoted to the one guy with talent. Perhaps Nas should have paid more attention when he said "My first album contained no famous guest appearances, the result I'm crowned the best lyricist." That's probably why the first album was a lot better, because other less talented people weren't crowding the spotlight. Regardless of the details though, the fact is that this album is the best thing that Nas has done for his career in the last six years, and as a fan I'm grateful that this is the direction he decided to take. The focus is back on rapping and raw lyrical skills and Nas makes it abundantly clear that he possesses both in great quantities. Jay Z gets his shit handed to him on this album and Nas gets his career back. Now if only someone would start a battle with Wu Tang Clan we'd start to see some real shit happen in the world of rap.
* * * 1/2
Reviewed: March, 2003
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