Nas season continues today with 2001's classic album, and sequel to arguably the best hip hop album ever titled 'Stillmatic'. Nas had been through a rough patch in his career prior to this, with his last two albums being quite mixed to negatively reviewed - he took a two year break to get his head right and this album made - so, was it worth the wait and was it a return to form for Nas?
The production is better than on the last two albums, overall it’s solid and there’s some real standout beats, like on 'You're da Man' which has this funky drum pattern over these choir like violins as Nas provides great imagery, metaphors and thought provoking bars as he talks on going from rags to riches and now being a legend in the rap game. There's a nice sample, the beat is amazing and Nas sounds so inspired, confident and focused on the verses - what a song. However, there are some beats on here I don’t like, such as on 'My Country' which has this Mexican guitar with the standard drums and bass guitar as he talks on how the government hold black people back, it follows a man who’s parents are dead so he turns to crime to support himself before he’s imprisoned and he comes out to see nothing has changed – Millennium Thug’s verses also a double entendre of soldier’s at war and how they’re sent out by government to die for profit. Thug provides great storytelling, imagery and metaphors with a smooth flow. But that being said, the hook is pretty ugly, I appreciate the idea and I think lyrically it’s expressed well but this beat and hook just make me lose interesting despite what they’re saying – the only bad song on this album so far. It’s still not to the level of 'Illmatic' or 'It Was Written', but it’s an improvement, plus Nas don’t need the flashiest production to shine. To put it simply, it improves the listening experience unlike the instrumentals of his last two albums. 'What Goes Around' has these despairing guitar riffs, the bass and drum pattern are nice but it’s an ass beat overall as he talks on all in life which is destined to poison you like schools, medicine etc., he also talks about issues in society like killings in the hood, girls who aren’t comfortable with their own race or beauty, a story of a man who goes around giving STD's to loads of girls til he catches AIDs and dies of it – the main message is everything that goes around comes around. Like the last song on the tracklist, this is a bad song too, again a good idea just isn’t put out right because the delivery is lifeless and the beat is horrible.
Nas' lyricism is up a level on this one, he’s very slick and the braggadocio is great on this, as on 'Got Ur Self A...', "My first album had no famous guest appearances // The outcome: I'm crowned the best lyricist", as he's warning people he’s back and better than ever, they better stayed armed if they’re to stop him over this enjoyable drum pattern, and them piano keys are entertaining too. It has another great hook, this is what was missing from past 2 albums as well as a great beat. The verses just have that extra motivation and energy and it’s a pretty fantastic song. I say it every album review of Nas but his storytelling again is just so good, like on 'Rewind' which has a twist, he’s reversed the story which is hard to pull off but he does it so vividly, "Bobbed her head then spit a nut back in my dick (always makes me laugh) // The bullet goes back in the gun // The bullet holes close in the chest of this n**** // Now he back to square one, screamin', "shoot don't please"". The stripped back beat with these hard, chugging guitar strings is pretty mediocre, but not bad, as his story is about him was sleeping with this girl and then went to kill an opp who was on his block. It’s a really creative track, Nas executes it near perfectly and everything he says you can really picture. It’s a more bar heavy album than we’ve seen before, like on 'Destroy & Rebuild', "Cornchip, Buckwheat look-a-like, it's Mega // Right, Mega was his name, sorry about that // (But it's so hard) to put a coward's name in my rap // Always actin' tough, a jokester be frontin' // He got snuffed, he got shot in the thigh, he did nothin'", as it has another deep, guitar inspired beat which is enjoyable but doesn’t stand out too much as he talks about getting rid of the weak (Prodigy, Cormega, Nature) in order to rebuild the hood (a diss track more or less). The beats decent, he doesn’t need it to be amazing to move around it – a great track, really menacing too, the delivery isn’t the best on the album it’s a bit too laid back – still a really good song but not the best on here. I sound like a broken record but Nas is an elite lyricist and he doesn’t slow down with a flow just so effortless and the same old, energetic delivery.
There's few features on here but the ones who are selected all perform, with some providing great verses, like AZ on 'The Flyest' who comes with his classic flow and glides over this more glossy beat, with sparkling synths and a deep bass guitar. The track focuses on how they’re the flyest and have what it takes to survive that street life. There's nothing wrong with the hook but I don’t think it adds to the song, it’s weird because both rappers provide great verses but overall this song is probably my least favourite so far and I can’t quite say why because I love the verses – it’s a good song, but not great, and I genuinely don’t know why them verses don’t hit me as much. We even get a really nice, sung hook on here, coming from Amerie on 'Rule' who gives us a really enjoyable hook, it’s quite sugary sweet but it’s simple and effective with pleasant vocals over this beat which really stands out on the album, and it sounds amazing. The track focuses on how the lust for power is bad for humanity and causes problems, world peace is the solution as Nas provides great lyricism and a social commentary. The sweet hook is soothing on the ears and the verses are really standout – this may be my favourite song on the album. The rappers on here are of a high quality, the competition really is healthy and brings out the best of Nas. 'Every Ghetto' features Blitz who provides raw and heavy lyricism over this OK beat which again is nothing more, as Nas pens really poetic and thought provoking lyricism which is very vivid too, "Watchin' kids freeze in winters, they still poor // How could I tease them with Benzes and feel no remorse // Drivin' past them in the lively fashion, diamond colors clashin'", as the pair talk on those in the ghetto living a poor life as they reflect on how they used to live that life too. The end to this album has taken a nosedive, it’s a really mediocre track – not bad like the last two but I don’t get much enjoyment out of this because the beat is ass and Nas’ rapping isn’t exactly too great delivery wise, lyrically this song is insane though.
Content wise, he takes a more social tone when talking on the hood, race and the government, like on 'One Mic', with the basis being he only needs one mic to make a difference, as he begins talking on the world and the hoods problems hoping it’ll help change - he wants a simple life with one girl, gun and mic. The light keys contrasting this aggressive drum pattern and funky bass guitar before it explodes into life and sounds amazing as we get a great social commentary with slick lyricism from Nas. The anticipation builds up in Nas’ delivery as he gets more aggressive before this hook comes in calm and acting as an interlude – it’s really heartfelt and a passionate performance. It’s also littered with diss tracks, such as 'Ether' which is aimed at Jay-Z and a response to his 'Takeover' track. He comes with menacing bars and disses, "What you think, you gettin' girls now ‘cause of your looks? N*-**o, please! You no-mustache-havin' // With whiskers like a rat, compared to Beans you whack // And your man stabbed Un and made you take the blame // You ass, went from Jaz to hangin' with Kane // To Irv, to B.I.G. – and Eminem murdered you on your own shit", over these screeching synths and very dramatic beat – allowing Nas to do his thing. The hooks really good and the song sounds really good, and as a disstrack it’s just merciless especially verse 3. What a song. There’s a few other focuses on here that aren’t filled with content, like the track 'Smokin'' which is a turn up song as he’s smoking weed with some braggadocio over these eerie strings I like but the funky drum pattern is the best part of the instrumental. It's not the same level as the first 3 songs but still a great track nevertheless with a cool concept, beat and hook – just the rapping (while top tier) isn’t as attractive as the first 3. It's probably the least cohesive Nas album yet, thematically it’s got similar ideas but they’re just kind of songs, but still great content overall, it just doesn't flow like 'Illmatic'.
Other tracks to talk on includes the opener 'Stillmatic (The Intro)', where he's telling the listeners this will be a return to form as well as describing the place he came from with some nice bars and vivid descriptions too over this really glossy beat which stands out and is in your face - in a good way. He commands the mic so effortlessly, a really solid verse over an amazing beat and it really sets the tone for what’s to come. Finally, '2nd Childhood' sets the scene with descriptive lyricism and some great storytelling, "All his peoples moved on in life, he's on the corners at night // With young dudes it's them he wanna be like // It's sad but it's fun to him, right? He never grew up // 31 and can't give his youth up, he's in his second childhood", as he talks on different people and how they’re in their '2nd childhood' in the hood by failing to mature and still acting like a teenager running round the streets. This laid back, bass guitar beat which creates a nice vibe is just so smooth and elegant, Nas really in his bag on this one – what a song.
To conclude, for the most part he sounds more slick, inspired and focused as he's not trying to force the mainstream sound or catchy hook and just spitting instead. It's closer to 'Illmatic' and 'It Was Written' than the last 2 and that's what we want (until the nosedive). It's just better to put it simply, it's cleaner and as better example of a rap album with better production. Nas is back on form with this one and hopefully he'd build some momentum from this. However – Nas could’ve had this album on track with his first 2, but the last 3 tracks aren’t good at all – infact I only had 2 'bad' songs on 'Nastradamus' (a few mediocre) and 2 on 'I Am…'. Despite an album of immense highs it still has as many low lows as his last two albums – but the highs definitely do enough to put this album in a tier above 'Nastradamus' and slightly ahead of 'I Am…'.
FAVOURITE TRACKS: Stillmatic (The Intro), Ether, Got Ur Self A..., Smokin', You're da Man, Rewind, One Mic, 2nd Childhood, Destroy & Rebuild, Rule LEAST FAVOURITE TRACK: My Country
OVERALL RATING: Light 8/10