Review Summary: On His third album Nas begins his descent into mediocrity.
The Late 90s was a great time for Hip Hop. 1998 was a commercial breakthrough for the genre with Jay- Z going quintuple platinum, hardcore rapper DMX releasing two triple platinum albums and Lauryn Hill wining album of the year at the Grammy’s. 1999 saw The Rise of Cash Money and their bling rap, the Return of Dr. Dre and his white boy protégé Eminem and the continuing of Jay-Z’s critical and commercial dominance. Lost in the Mix of all this was former lyrical prodigy Nas who released two increasingly commercial albums to lukewarm reception. The first being I Am…
Initially intended to be an autobiographical double album, Nas scrapped the idea after rampant bootlegging led the album to be one of the first high profile victims of the internet. After going back to the studio and starting over Nas returned with a seemingly compromising album that only leaves you wondering who he really is.
Lyrically he’s still good sometimes even brilliant but unlike It Was Written his flow is often lazy which doesn’t go over well when the beats are as weak as the ones provided hear. The album starts off well enough with “New York State of Mind Part 2”, another graphically detailed report of life in the hood, the song does suffer from a surprisingly weak beat from Dj Premier that makes Nas flow seem tired. Small world and We Will Survive are other highlights, the latter being written in the form a letter, dedicating the fist two verses to the deceased Tupac and Biggie. But the two best songs on the album are the Dj Premier produced “Nas Is Like” and the haunting “Undying Love. On the former, Premier Provides Nas with maybe the best beat he’s ever rapped over. This is braggadocio Nas style and on this track at least, he does it better than pretty much anyone else. It makes you wonder why they haven’t hooked up more often. Undying love is a meticulously detailed account of infidelity where Nas shows almost unrivaled skill as a storyteller.
That’s it for the highlights, of the remaining songs only "Big Things is truly awful. Everything else is at the very least listenable, "Hate Me Now" which is probably more famous for the contraversial video and the Puff Daddy drama that followed, is Nas's retort to his critics but he just sounds awkward over such a booming beat and it doesn't help that Puff is constantly screaming in the background. Songs like "Ghetto Prisoners and "I Want to Talk To You" try to be positive but suffer from weak beats and Nas's patented contradictoy rhymes.
I Am... isn't a bad album, it's just not good enough for someone with Nas's considerable talents, and only leaves you wondering why Nas has chosen to become one of the pack.