The intro track "Not For Radio" features Puff Daddy in another "Hate Me Now" (from the I Am album) role. Puff starts the latter track by saying "Escobar season has returned". On the new track, Nas starts off with "Escobar season begins". Early in his career, one of Nas' monikers was "Nas Escobar". This was of course a reference to Pablo Escobar, the Colombian drug kingpin. With almost a decade between these two songs, Nas kicks off the album by letting you know he is still the same lyrical monster he was in his younger days. Kanye lays down a choir-like melody that almost feels like a movie score. Nas attacks the track with all the tools in his repertoire: a smooth flow and cadence, complex subject matter, conscious metaphors, and gritty bars. Nas hits you with powerful lyrics about: Egyptian gods, black pride, divinity, fashion (Goyard, Google it), Cooley high, the presidential election, politics, slavery, longevity, fake friends, divinity, Catholics, Moors, Freemasons, Black Panthers, SWAT, Willie Lynch, crack/Pablo Escobar, American history, fear, and a rack of other themes I'm sure I missed. Nas has been consistent when it comes to ill intro tracks. This is no different. There is a theory (based on Kanye tweeting the definition of the seven deadly sins four days before NASIR dropped), that each Nas track is meant to correlate to a deadly sin. "Not For Radio" would correspond to pride since it is very "pro-black/proud". Even though Nas ends the track acknowledging the downfalls of being "too proud".
"Simple Things" is a very clever track on a more chilled and soulful beat. There is a hint of melody in his cadence that compliments this last track. This song is Nas looking back at his career and life. The spiritual emcee elevates his bars to make sure his place among the greats is undisputed. Nas recognizes his greatest flaw (according to critics) is his production selection. But he takes pride in not sounding like the "top 40". Nas will never follow a fad or passing trend. He will not dumb down his lyrics and subject matter to appease the radio overlords. He states that his lyrics are studied (and taught) by college professors. Like the course “Poetry in America for Teachers: The City from Whitman to Hip Hop" (whose track syllabus includes "It Ain't Hard To Tell") at Harvard. Yeah, that Harvard. The newer generation might not like Nas, or think he is boring. But Nas could care less. His catalog has sold over 25 million units, so "somebody agrees with the music". Nas also references his relationships with the most beautiful women in the world. Most of whom he has kept private. Even though he has enjoyed a luxurious life, he still loves getting in a "spaceship" with his brother and going back to Queensbridge to hang out with his people. And again, if we follow the seven deadly sins theory, we can correspond "Simple Things" to the sin of envy. Nas is aware of the envious (jealous) people who look at him with hate and resentment. From his relationships to his career, Nas knows critics and haters feed off of his downfall. But through all of this, Nas breaks down the essence of the song with his final bar: "I just want my kids to have the same peace I'm blessed with". Nas' daughter, Destiny (little Des got your eyes) started her own lipstick line/brand(?). His youngest son will also have the resources to make a name for himself if he so chooses. Nas wants his kids to enjoy the simple things in life, peace. The way to defeat envy is by finding inner peace and not letting outside influences run your life. Nas has found a peace through all the trials and tribulations (public and private), and all he wants is his kids to find their peace as well.
If you're a Nas fan and a Kanye fan, this mini LP will be everything you expected. But I will get through what I wasn't feeling first. First all the Kanye stuff. Production wise, I can't front. While this album definitely sounds like a "Kanye album", it works for Nas (for the most part). For me though, I think I'm good with the Nas/Kanye whole album thing. Meaning, no más. Gracias. IF Nas is going to do another one producer project, it should ONLY be with DJ Premier. Honestly I would have liked to hear whatever album he had cooking up a few years ago before Kanye took the reigns. And if I'm comparing this with DAYTONA, I think overall the production worked better for Pusha T than Nas. I don't think Nas was as involved as Push was with Kanye in that department. At least it doesn't sound like he was to me. And then there is the "Kanye" thing. I REALLY wanted to separate Kanye the producer with Kanye the person. But while Nas is dropping these socially conscious gems, all I can think of is all the ignorant and wild shit Kanye's been saying. So there you go. I didn't want this to happen. But it did. And the more we get away from his last TMZ rant (which he recently recanted), the more everyone seems to be cool with Kanye again. My brain just isn't wired like that. *END RANT* Now onto the Nas portion of the review. Overall I would have liked more consistency in quality and quantity. There were moments of GREATNESS. No surprise there. And I am not talking about the whole seven track nonsense. For example, "Everything" is probably one of my favorite tracks. It is the longest track, clocking in at 7:33. But Nas' verses go for just over 2:30. This joint has The-Dream AND Kanye giving us two overlapping (why?) choruses. The song "Bonjour" is a grown man "Change Clothes"-type track. I actually like this track too, but this is definitely an example of those "Kanye featuring Nas" complaints I've seen floating around. Lyrically there are few missteps from the mature poet. For the most part we get politically and socially conscious themes that we expect from one of Hip Hop's elder statesman. Songs like "Adam and Eve" make you yearn for more. Nas and Kanye both compliment each others musical genius perfectly here. Almost effortlessly, Nas uses his experiences to school young and old heads. Sprinkled with braggadocio bars, Nas makes sure that he connects with this swing. From a Nas fan, this is a really good album. But I think I might be caught in that "what if" moment. What if we had 12-15 tracks (like we are accustomed to getting from Nas)? What if Large Professor produced a track? Preem? My expectations for this album were different I guess. But don't get it twisted. This album is better than 90% of what is out now. I'd normally say 99%, but man, we've had some DOPE SHIT this year. But if I compare this to the rest of his catalog, it would be on the lower half. But a lot of the style points I deducted were because of Kanye. This whole "seven is a magic number" thing ain't working for me. And a couple of arrangements seemed off. And the biggest "what if" is, what if we got that pre/non-Kanye album? I don't know. But this joint still gonna be in my rotation for the foreseeable future. I got the vinyl coming, so you know this will still go on my top albums of 2018 so far. If anything, this album gives me hope for the next chapter in Nas' career. With all the business ventures he's been making lately, you feel something really special is on the horizon.
Peep the NASIR album listening party and that DJ Khaled "Nas Album Done" video below.