(Music Review) Nas – “Untitled”
Def Jam Recordings/Columbia
Written By: Samir Siddiqui
‘”The game needs him,
plus the people need someone to believe in,
So in God’s Son we trust, cause they know I’ma give ‘em what they want
They lookin’ for a hero, I guess that makes me a hero”
Def Jam Recordings/Columbia
It may have been the recent onslaught of super-hero movies that inspired the lead-single of Nas’ latest LP, but “Hero” is a good representation of Nas’ current position in hip-hop today. Nas is like a disgruntled super-hero who has been unsettled by recent conditions; disheartened by the state of the game, Nasir Jones incited applause and fury with his 2006 album Hip-Hop Is Dead. But after deciding to name his follow-up after the N-word (a title which was later scratched), Nas left heads wondering whether his provocations were just attempts at garnering attention, rather than sincere, bold statements. Now, with his controversial title removed, Nas presents arguably his boldest album to date with Untitled, an unwavering artistic statement that follows through with its ambitious intentions.
At the heart of Nas’ latest project is the aforementioned “Hero,” and it’s by far his best “pop” achievement to date- surrounded by impressive synths, courtesy of Polow Da Don, Nas weaves in an out of the grand production with rhymes worthy of the song’s title: “Nas’ the only true rebel since the beginning, still in musical prison/ still in jail for the flow, try tellin’ Bob Dylan, Bruce, or Billy Joe they can’t sing what’s in their soul!” On the opposite site of the sonic spectrum, DJ Toomp provides the lush strings-backing for “N.I.*.*.E.R.,” an inspiring track that chronicles the under-appreciation of African-Americans achievements under slave society.
Unlike on Hip-Hop Is Dead, where Nas would drift in and out of relevant subject matter, most of Untitled sees Nas’ lyrics focused and potent. Nas holds nothing back on the wordplay-heavy “Sly Fox,” a seething attack on Fox News, with lines such as, “What’s a fox characteristic? Slick shit, censored, misinformation, pimp the station, over stimulation/ reception, deception, Comcast, digital satan, the fox has a bushy tail, and Bush tells lies and fox trots, so I don’t know what’s real.” Likewise, the closing “Black President” is well-written and engaging, as Nas presents his honest inclination towards accepting Barack Obama’s calls for change and equality.
And although some off-topic, generic verses creep in through the cracks, the high-level of lyrical quality holds up for much of the album, as Nas challenges the practice of the principles that founded “America,” and later, cleverly compares the appeal of “Fried Chicken” to that of a no-good vixen (the horns provided on the latter song is a stroke of production mastery by Mark Ronson). While Untitled is an LP chalk-full of winning moments, the album isn’t void of slip-ups. “Make the World Go Round” is a flat pop tune full of empty synths and out-of-place Chris Brown vocals, and an otherwise solid track, “We’re Not Alone” is needlessly dragged into boredom due to its excess length. The album also could have benefitted from an extra punch in the form of the would be single “Be A Ni**er Too,” among other scratched tracks.
Still, Untitled features an invigorated Nasir Jones, and showcases one of hip-hop’s greatest emcees as still one of the most prolific acts in the game today. Lyrically, Nas challenges himself to be better, taking on serious subject matter and taking the time to tackle it with dense, well thought-out raps that do the music justice. Aided by a production line-up that is highlighted by lesser-known beat-makers such as stic.man of Dead Prez, DJ Green Lantern, and Jay Electronica, Untitled is another great achievement to add to Nas’ already stellar catalogue.