Following on from my 2020 yearly lists and a short break, I'm back to continue Nas season as the first review of 2021. Nas was back on critical track after releasing 'Stillmatic', but even before that album he had issues with leaked tracks - meaning some songs were scrapped. That and songs that just didn't make the cut found themselves on here - so, how good was the music Nas was refusing to release?
The production is cohesive on this, all pretty much piano based beats with groovy bass and great boom bap patterns, as on 'U Gotta Love It', as Nas gives us a great display of lyricism and talks on attacking his opps, the hood and his rapping ability. The hook doesn’t do too much for me, but it’s overshadowed by amazing verses from Nas – not as good as the first 2 songs but not far behind them and still elite. There's some really great beats here, such as on 'Doo Rags', which has this glossy, upbeat but lowkey piano instrumental which sounds amazing as Nas provides vivid lyricism of the highest tier, "We devil incarnates headed for jail // Where Shell gas company in South Africa be havin' us killed // Your paper money was the death of Christ // And all these shorties comin' up just resurrect your life // It's like a cycle, yo", and spends the track reminiscing on his youth in the ghetto. The song has a good feel to it, with a lowkey delivery but packed with emotion and happiness - it’s simplistic in aura but one of Nas’ best songs, that hook is delivered perfectly as well. Overall, the production is great, no bad beats on here even if they’re not all standout. 'Poppa Was a Playa' has this great bass with glossier instrumentals surrounding it as Nas tells the story of his dad cheating on his mum – but Nas will always respect his dad for staying in his life, and he does this with some great storytelling, "Next thing you know he packing, so then I asked him "What's this white shit on that plate and your face? // And, Poppa, why you butt-ass from the waist // And, who's this lady I'm facing? // Dark skin, you not my mommy!" // He grabbed me up to run some smooth words by me // Promised me things that he would buy me // If I kept my mouth closed and don't tell Mommey // He said one day I'll understand— // "Little me, what's in you is inside me"". The song has a nice hook, enjoyable flow and storytelling, and a great concept of a song which finishes this album off meaning even the lowest points on here are very strong songs.
Nas’s lyricism is as good as ever here, as shown on songs like 'No Idea's Original- Edit', "If n****s could look inside my mind, you'll find // Where bodies are buried, first look past the hotties who dimes // Go to the center, enter with caution, past the brain cell graveyard // Where weed's responsible for memory loss // Let's witness, the horrific, the stench'll make you nauseous // See what I seen every day I live with this torture", as the track covers the horrors he’s seen, the problems in America and the hood and how people want him dead. The really harsh guitar riffs sound great with the boom bap pattern, it's an intriguing beat as this song has great rapping on display again from Nas and another elite song on this really good album. It’s sharp, as are the bars and punchlines found throughout, as on tracks like 'Everybody's Crazy', "My wrist is freezing up sick of these ducks on my hiatus // Poking out their chest like they tall as sky scrapers // But they small as a shanty in a African village // Soft as cotton candy we assassins and killers // Let shottie off in club floors, pellets spray your familia", over this heavy bass which gives us a cool beat, but nothing stands out from it. The track touches on familiar topics of shootings and murders as Nas warns you not to mess with his crew - the rhyme scheme on here is crazy, it has a nice hook and overall another great track. There’s less focus on storytelling though the lyricism but it’s still as vivid as ever, as shown on 'Purple', "Somebody tell these shorties reach for the stars // Instead they tell 'em how to reach through the bars holdin' a mirror // Lookin' down a tear in jail, makin' weapons to kill ya", as he reflects on all that goes round him in the hood and how he smokes weed to forgot about it all over another nice piano based beat. Nas to do his thing over this great instrumental, he really gets vivid with his tragic tales and it makes for an amazing listen. He provides a really smooth, nicely paced flow and energy packed, hard delivery which makes for an enjoyable listen.
The usual content of what goes around in the hood is found on here, it isn’t as fresh as ever but still he finds a way to cover it uniquely, such as on 'My Way' where he incorporates tales from the hood to tell us about his come up, that didn’t listen to what others said and did it his own way. There's great braggadocio and sharp lyricism from Nas over these fast paced piano keys and calm bass guitar which sounds nice. There's a cool hook, but Nas’ rapping is the main attraction here - it’s top tier and a brilliant display of rapping from Nas over a really enjoyable beat. He also talks on black injustices and racial problems in America at the time, like on tracks like 'Black Zombie', as he provides powerful lyrics and real bars over another glossier, jazz inspired beat as he talks on how black people in America are negatively embracing their stereotypes, as he warns them to change for the better. This has my favourite hook of the album, a great melody to it and Nas’ performance is great as per usual. He gets introspective and personal on this album as well at times, like on the song 'Drunk by Myself' as Nas is going through a depression, manic episode and he spills his problems out while drunk driving hoping to die. He provides emotional, honest and introspective lyrics over a despairing beat with more piano keys and violins. This is a hard hitting track, he really got everything off his chest and it's a key highlight on this tape. Despite these songs not being all made for this album, the content is great and cohesive.
Other tracks to look at includes 'Nothing Lasts Forever', which has another piano based boom bap beat with glossy styles as well as really vivid lyricism and great storytelling from Nas as he talks on the hood, what’s changed and how nothing lasts forever. It's a great track, with a solid hook, great flow and energy on the verses and a really great instrumental – the message is good too, so there's not much more you can ask for. 'Blaze a 50' see's Nas sleeps with a rich guys wife, plan to murder him for the insurance money over this horror style beat with screeching synths over the groovy bass. The track has amazing storytelling, and it leaves an impact on you with that final verse, up until then it was still good just not exactly Nas’ most gripping story - a great song overall still.
The production on here is great, it truly cements a return to form – the best produced Nas album since 'Illmatic'. It’s consistent throughout, some of Nas’ best tracks and no low points, and while not 'Illmatic' or 'It Was Written' level, it still has some great rapping, solid production and nice content – not far behind them first two albums. There's no features which was a surprise, but he’s good enough to keep things interesting the whole way through. The hooks are OK on this, Nas has lacked there a few times but overall on this they’re decent
- with some being really good. I'm not actually sure why these songs didn't make the albums they were meant to be on, they would be some of the best songs on each album, an odd choice but even so we got these songs in the end and it's one of Nas' best projects to date.
FAVOURITE TRACKS: Doo Rags, My Way, Nothing Lasts Forever, Purple, Drunk by Myself, Black Zombie LEAST FAVOURITE TRACK: Blaze a 50 OVERALL RATING: Solid 9.5/10