Friday evening, we went to hear a grip of New Nas Music. When you hear that Nas is working with Storch, Dre, Kanye, and Just on his first Def Jam album, you gotta wonder what direction he’s trying to go in. Turns out he left the pop smashes for the candy rappers, celebrities and pop stars, copped up some dirty pretty things, and dug in deep in the booth. From what we heard, this record has Nas at his best – thoughtful, vulnerable, sad, angry, militant, intellectual, and struggling to do right by himself, his principles, his craft. We know that sounds a little heavy-handed, but shit – we’re used to having listening sessions tell us everything we need to know about an album, but this once-through listen only allowed us to scratch the surface of Hip-Hop Is Dead… The N. We’re not the ones to make proclamations like “hip-hop is dead,” but recently we have been thinking that the hip-hop LP might be dead. But when it’s done, this is gonna be an album you can play all the way through. Read the track-by-track after the jump.
1. (We didn’t get the name of this track) produced by Salaam Remi
Over SR’s huge, mega, “We Will Rock You”-sized drums and stadium anthem strings, Nas lists everyone who he’s not psyched on, and it’s not pretty. Nas would like to send a big “Fuck You” to the following people, in no particular order: niggas, bitches, snitches, niggas, crackas, judges, losers, cowards, etc.
2. “QB True G” featuring the Game, produced by Dr Dre
This is the first really dope example of the maybe crazy but definitely awesome approach Nas seems to have taken on the beats for this record. He called most of the biggest names in the biz, then had Def Jam right them really big checks for their “album cut” tracks. This is definitely not “In The Club” (thankfully), but we’ll be damned if it doesn’t knock. Nas calls himself, “The one kid that coulda been Aftermath that got away.” We can think of a few others, but that’s prolly nitpicking. Game waxes nostalgic about being in the record store in 1995, looking at the shelves, trying to choose between Illmatic on the right and The Chronic on the left. We couldn’t wait to hear the answer to the million dollar question, but as it turns out, Young Game stole both records.
We can’t tell you about this record.
4. “Carry On Tradition” produced by Scott Storch
Over a really pretty Scott Storch beat, Nas raps “Hip-hop been dead and it’s our fault.” Nas proceeds to break down how hip-hop has done everything in its power to commit suicide, maybe accidentally, maybe not. It’s basically a cautionary tale for youngblood rappers. Some other lyrical samples: “Jewish stay together, friends in high places/ We on some low level shit,” “Had your man shoot you like in that Soprano’s episode,” “We used to be a ghetto secret/ Can’t decide if I want that or if I want the whole world to peep it.”
5. “Play On Player” featuring Snoop, produced by Scott Storch
This song is definitely some pimp shit, but Nas characteristically touches on everything from cunnilingus to conflict diamonds. The craziest thing about “Play On” though is that both MCs take like 32 bars or something? We had no idea Snoop could currently be fucked to write a 32 bar verse.
6. “Still Dreamin” featuring Kanye West, produced by Kanye West
Kanye sets the tone for another very pretty beat by saying, “As the sun sets/ And night falls/ And them hoes call….” We wonder if Kanye had that line on the beat before Nas got a hold of it, because it’s straight storytelling from there, and not really “A Night Out With Rappers and Hoes” storytelling either. Kanye has the first verse, Nas kicks a second verse about a dude trying to get money and a third verse that’s a cautionary tale about a chick who gets caught up in all kinds of raw shit, snorting, etc etc etc.
7. “Blunt Ashes” produced by Chris Webber.
Yes, that Chris Webber. In case you haven’t noticed, the mega-celebrity world is mad small, for better or for worse. The beat is cool though. Nas intros the song saying, “I wonder if Langston Hughes and Alex Haley got blazed before they told stories. But I’m gonna blaze before I tell this story….” Nas runs through crazy black (and white) history, not just dropping names, but also, as with the intro, looking back on old stories and framing them in a 2006 perspective, seemingly trying to figure out what it all has to do with him. Names checked: Sam Cooke, Bobby Womack, Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell, Diana Ross and Florence “Flo” Ballard, JFK, Lauren
Bacall and Judy Campbell. He probably goes the deepest on Hattie McDaniel, who is the first black actress to win an Oscar (her winning performance was in Gone With The Wind). Nas notes that McDaniel “couldn’t go the the premiere of her own joint,” and adds, “I know they were strong back then.”
8. “White Man’s Paper (War)” featuring Damien Marley, produced by “some new African dude” (that’s all we were told)
“I get my news from that white man’s paper/ So I get my views from that white man’s paper…” Nas and Jr Gong have been down for years, and the craziness of this angry, blistering, bouncing record reflects that. They should start a group called Gods’ Sons.