Updated: Feb 24
Nas season continues with a look at his 3rd album from 1999 - 'I Am...'. This album followed two classic, near perfect albums - so it had a lot to live up to. Critically it wasn't received too well, usually named as a bottom 3 Nas album - but that may be due to the pressure it had to live up to its predecessors - so the question is, is this album good?
The production is very mixed on here, there's definitely some great beats, such as on 'Hate Me Now' which has these frightened piano chords over this nice boom bap beat, as Nas drops great braggadocios bars, "But it seems you'd rather see me in jail with state greens // Want me off the scene fast, but good things last // Like your favorite MC still makin' some mean cash // First rapper to bring a platinum plaque back to the projects", as he talks on his wealth acquired, status and rapping ability. Diddy's simple but enjoyable and catchy hook is great and overall Nas goes hard and it's a really good start after a so and so opener. However there's also some awful beats, as on 'Dr. Knockboot' - the drum pattern is fine but the spongy synth bass is horrible as Nas teaches us the do’s and don’ts of sex. He provides entertaining lyrics, funny and again not basic and just has a way with words, "DO: hit positions she will find interest in // DON'T: hit the pussy if that shit's blisterin'", and Nas’ flow and lyrics are fun, I don’t like this song in fact it’s the worst one so far – but I don’t exactly think it’s bad. Most of the beats though are just meh - not good but not too bad, such as on 'N.Y. State of Mind, Pt II', which has a slower version of the original with a piano added - and it's just an uninteresting, duller version of the original instrumental. Nas drops vivid lyricism as he talks on the gruesome and dark streets of New York, and Nas' charisma really takes over the dull elements and he slides on this - but it just gets tiring, it's an OK song but I can just listen to the original which is much better. Overall it's a huge step down from the last 2 albums in terms of production and it isn't as gripping - making it less enjoyable from the get go.
Lyrically Nas is still fine, although I don't think his bars are as hard hitting or powerful when compared to his last two albums, in fact 'Nas Is Like' is one of the only songs that would lyrically live up to 'It Was Written' as he provides hard bars, poetic lyrics and great braggadocio, "It's a dirty game, is any man worthy of fame? // Much success to you, even if you wish me the opposite // Sooner or later, we'll all see who the prophet is", and talks on where he came from and what he had to do to celebrating the life of luxury he’s now able to live. This is one of Nas', in fact arguably his best beat, this glossy beat with violins and a great boom bap beat is amazing and the biggest attraction of the song, Nas’ verses are definitely solid as well and this song can stand amongst Nas’ best. His storytelling while not as vivid as 'It Was Written', but it's still amazing, as shown on 'Undying Love' as Nas has bought his wife a wedding ring and is to propose – but when he comes back home he finds his girl cheating on him, so him and his boy come back and kill them both before taking their own life as the police arrive. It has this guitar based beat which again just doesn’t do much for me as well as a bad hook, bad beat but on the other hand has good storytelling for a story not too interesting – this may be a surprise but it’s my least favourite here until we get past the murders when the story then gets gripping. It's an average song and not the end to the album I wanted. He drops powerful verses throughout, and compared to his own standard maybe it's disappointing but overall it's very good. 'Ghetto Prisoners' see's Nas provide some poetic, metaphoric and powerful verses from Nas, "I'm like the farmer, plantin' words, people are seeds // My truth is the soil; help you grow like trees // May the children come in all colors, change like leaves // But hold before you one of those prophetic MCs", "Goin' through the same bullshit as our fathers // Readin' history, but who's the authors? // For some the game is easy, for most of us the game is much harder", over these synth keys which are catchy and it's a good beat. Nas claims to be a prophet as he talks on overcoming oppression and the cycle of being stuck in the hood. The beat is annoying at first but it got stuck in my head eventually, the verses are good but I dunno there’s just not as much to it as Nas’ old songs, the rapping isn’t as smooth and the way he words things doesn’t keep you too engaged – a good song, but not great. He still has a great flow and that same rugged delivery.
There's not a load of features on here, but there's some big name, highly skilled ones, such as the legendary Scarface on 'Favor for a Favor' as he drops disgustingly vivid bars that hit so hard, "A killer code, secret untold, how we bury beef with a rose // To his wake we send a wreath that explodes // Beneath us sleep with the Reaper, they sleep eyes closed", with an amazing delivery which reflects the theme of his verse perfectly over these decent twinkling bells over this deep bass guitar, drums and these hard piano chords which loop in and out. Favor for favor here refers to murdering someone’s opp and the other returning the favor at a later date – how they murder them is discussed in this song. The hooks so mean, so are the rappers and it’s a great song – the reason it isn’t elite like half of 'Illmatic' and 'It Was Written' is simply just isn’t as interesting to me although it’s still really good. There isn't a bad feature on here, they all add to the track even if it's just a hook, such as Aaliyah on 'You Won't See Me Tonight' as she provides gorgeous vocals which are enticing over this pretty decent boom bap beat which isn't much special. The track see's Nas going back and forth with this girl he doesn't have time for - despite spoiling her with luxuries (he simply leads her on). The R&B inspired track is evident especially with Aaliyah but content isn’t too interesting and neither is Nas to an extent despite the slick lyricism - it’s an OK song at best. Likewise even if it's just a verse, such as DMX on 'Life Is What You Make It' as he provides nasty bars and comes with that barking delivery and it’s a solid feature, "I got no time for games 'cause I'm all grown up // You wanna joke n****? Laugh when you get blown up (come on) // See how funny it is when your kids ain't got no father". Nas provides great bars and a great social commentary over these fast paced strings which to be honest sound awful and it’s not a good beat as the pair talk about life being what you make it and there’s no point shooting people up in the hood as it gets you nowhere. DMX got Nas on this, Nas was good but not is finest performance until verse 3 – a great song, not elite but still enjoyable and with a good beat it could've stood amongst Nas' best.
There's less focus content wise as well compared to his last two albums, even though he still talks on where he's came from and what he's had to go through, as on 'Small World' which see's him provide great storytelling in describing the scene - but not in the most engaging way until verse 3 as he talks on casual interactions that go on inside the place he lives (by casual I mean scandals, sex and shootings) over this deep guitar bass, decent boom bap pattern and piano beat- it isn’t bad but pretty meh. The beat can be forgiven by Nas’ mic presence and storytelling, although I drifted in and out of focus as it went on but it’s still a great track just not the best. Most of the time he just takes an idea and runs with it, explaining the concept in the most detail possible, such as on 'Money Is My Bitch' as he talks on his love for this girl which is a clever metaphor for money, "It's hard enough to keep counting on you". The lyrics are enjoyable to follow along and spot the entendre’s of the girl and money over another meh beat with this tropical guitar that doesn't really get into the instrumental. The hook’s fine but the beat again stops this track advancing - it’s a good not great song, I like the concept and Nas’ rapping but the track just isn't executed perfectly. He also takes a socially aware tone on the album at times, as on 'I Want to Talk To You' which is a song directed at the president as he wants to work with him to help make people in poorer communities lives better and stop all the mindless violence. He provides powerful lyrics, "I'm just a black man why y'all made it so hard, damn // N****s gotta go create his own job // Mr. Mayor imagine if this was your backyard // Mr. Governor imagine if it was your kids that starved", over these deep bass guitar, light keys twinkling and overall it’s an enjoyable beat. The hooks a bit eh, but he hits the government with facts on this one and it’s overall a very good and enjoyable song. The content is still great on here, refreshing as well that it isn't all about the streets but subsequently that makes it less cohesive.
Other tracks to look at include 'We Will Survive' which has this pretty basic beat, not amazing but not bad as he talks to Pac and Biggie from heaven, letting them know the rap game has got worse since their death packing emotion in his words as it really feels like a message to them, as well as dropping cool references to their music, "You can't kill nothin' that's Ready to Die". The sample is great, the rapping is great and the content is great – that hook is eh but I can’t hold it against the song when the rest of it is perfect. 'Big Things' see's Nas drop these great, victorious verses and reflect on where he came from and wanting to be in the rap game for many years to come over this glossy beat, great brass and great boom bap pattern. Nas’ quick flow is flashy and sounds great as he kills this – the beat is one of the best, the hook is nice and this is a really good song off this album. Finally, 'K-I-SS-I-N-G' has as good lyrics as you can get for a love song as Nas tells the story of this girl he loves and ends up marrying before it ends in a divorce and she takes half of what he has. The naked beat and vocal samples are good, the verses are good too but the hook is bad – it stops this song being better than it is, I still like it and think it’s a good song though.
To get this out the way, I think the album is great – just not a masterpiece or a classic, and following on from back to back 10/10 albums is always going to make this look worse than it is. It has some very high highs, but also the only lows of Nas’ career at this point in time as the production is varied but not as good as his first two and neither is the rapping. I still find quite a lot of enjoyment from this and Nas is still highly skilled, it just puts the end to a perfect start of a career. Another issue is the hooks aren't as good as his last 2 albums, so when you get worse production, verses, rapping, hooks and even content – it just isn’t going to live up to the hype. Finally, a lot of tracks are good not great, which is another reason why this album isn’t up to the next level – although there are many great tracks on here as well (just not as much as his last 2 albums)
FAVOURITE TRACKS: Hate Me Now, Small World, Favor for a Favor, We Will Survive, I Want to Talk to You, Life Is What You Make It, Big Things, Nas Is Like
LEAST FAVOURITE TRACK: You Won't See Me Tonight
OVERALL RATING: Solid 7.5/10