Nas’s 2002 release The Lost Tapes
is a compilation of previously unreleased tracks that draws primarily on material from the I Am…
sessions. Originally intended as a double album, I Am…
was heavily affected by bootlegging prior to its release, resulting in many tracks being left on the cutting room floor. The resulting single disc album was intermittently inspired but like much of his post-Illmatic
work, it suffered from sub standard beats and a slew of unnecessary guest spots that dulled the albums edge. The Lost Tapes
provides a glimpse of what might have been and is an altogether leaner, sharper record that, for a few tracks at least - harkens back to the poetic wordplay and effortless flow of Illmatic
It’s no secret that much of the appeal of a Nas album comes from his ability to pen simultaneously poignant and gritty depictions of street life, and The Lost Tapes best tracks (“Purple”, “Doo Rags”, “Drunk By Myself”) are no different, marrying silky smooth piano hooks with some trademark lyrical turns of phrase: “unmarked police cars roam the streets hard, the heat is god, 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”. Elsewhere, he raps from the perspective of a baby inside the womb (“Fetus”) and revisits his salad days on warm, emotive album opener “Doo Rags”: “I used to play Apollo balcony seats/watchin niggaz swing razors in the front row/then out in the streets”. The production, courtesy of The Alchemist, L.E.S. and Rockwilder among others, is generally solid but not averse to throwing up a few uninteresting beats or misjudged samples for Nas to rap over, and its these tracks, such as the trite “Nothing Lasts Forever”, that drag the album down a little. Despite these flaws, The Lost Tapes is proof that even Nas’s cast offs are worthy of repeated listens.