When most people are asked what the best rap album ever is. It's pretty one-sided. ILLmatic was the perfection of Rap music. Instead of bragging about possessions, or party rapping, Nas sat back and told stories. He was the Bob Dylan of Rap music, with Bob Dylan's accolades. Unfortunately, when one garners as much respect as Nas did, it's nearly inevitable to let the success go to your head. And that's exactly what happened to Nas. In the hip-hop world. Nas fell off. HARD. He became everything he was respected for being the opposite of: The champagne popping, party rapping, possession flossing, rapper that is the same as any other average rapper.
When one falls off in the Rap world. It is next to impossible to come back. Few rappers have ever done it. And the ones that have are mainly considered the best. Ironically, the thing that got Nas back on the "Best rappers alive" list was supposed to be the final nail in his coffin.
Enter 2001: Rap music was thriving, Jay-Z
was on top of the world, and I was a little white kid who was engulfed in the rap world. Jay-Z released "Takeover" bombing on artists such as Prodigy from Mobb Deep
, and Nas. Who was all but exiled from rap after releasing "Oochie Wally"which seemed to be the low point of his career. Jay-Z seemed to have destroyed Nas in every aspect, even spilling the beans that he had relations with Nas' Baby's Mother. A blow which no rapper should ever come back from. But somehow, Nas did. The ball was in Nas' court, and Nas had something incredible up his sleeve, many considered nas the winner of the beef (Though I do not agree with this). Nas was suddenly launched back into rap stardom and the pressure was on him to make another great record, and this is what he came up with...
...STILLmatic. The name alone made me want to disown it and give it a 0.5 out of ten. Nas had spent most of the last decade trying to recreate ILLmatic. He was as obsessed with the album as most of his fans were. Every album cover looked similar, he kept referencing the fame he had that was years old, It was like seeing a boxer past his prime. I had to be talked into listening to this. Between all of my friends raving about the album and "The Source" giving it 5 Mics (back when the Source was credible) I decided to blow 12 bucks on the cd, what the hell, why not?
Well Nas let's us know right from the beginning on Stillmatic (The Intro)
"Ayo, the brother's "Stillmatic"
I crawled up out of that grave, wiping the dirt, cleaning my shirt
They thought I'll make another "Illmatic"
But it's always forward I'm moving
Never backwards stupid here's another classic
Which is half true. Nas does reference ILLmatic still, but on the album he stops trying to recreate it, he knows what it accomplished, but he still tells stories, and references it every now and then, but keeps it tolerable. The Intro is actually unlike many rap intro's, it has some nice lines, and gets anyone who doesn't know a lot about Nas' past up to speed. The beat is upbeat, It sounds a lot like a Kanye West beat with a high-pitched retro feel.
But it's not very cheery for long. Nas gets right to what got him back in the limelight with Ether
, which is an all out assault on Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella Records. Delving into their past, and clowning on his whole record label. With a great beat that is made for an important diss track it's simple and dark, the beat is serious and accompanies Nas' serious tone.
The albums other diss track, Destroy & Rebuild
is much lighter than Ether
. The beat is very light, and slightly upbeat, Nas focuses on another enemy of his, Cormega (affectionately called 'Mega) as well as Prodigy, and Nature (who was in the flop band The Firm
with nas) which does a great job of cheerfully dissing anyone on Nas' radar.
The albums first official single is Got Urself A...(Gun)
which is a play on the theme from "The Sopranos". The sing has a decent beat, with strings and a weak drum beat, the beat goes well with the lyrics. But the song seems like it was made only to be the single, it tries to have a catchy hook, but fails, still not a bad song though.
The album's second official single is lyrically the best on the album. One Mic
is every thing we loved about ILLmatic. Nas paints a picture with his words while starting out as quiet as a whisper, and by the end of the verse he is shouting which builds up only to be calm again, as each line gets more intense, the song gets louder and more intense, which really works extremely well. This song could be one of the top 3 tracks on ILLmatic. The music is just so simple and nice, it let's nas' lyrics take over, but is still a nice beat by itself.
Nas does experiment with his songs quite a bit on here. Most notably Rewind
which shoes a scenario in reverse, and the lyrics are extremely clever:
"I spit a story backwards, it starts at the ending
The bullet goes back in the gun
The bullet hole's closin this chest of a nigga
Now he back to square one
Screamin, "Shoot don't please"
I put my fifth back on my hip
It's like a VCR rewindin a hit
It's clever ideas like this that separate it from Nas' ILLmatic clone albums.
is produced by Nas himself, and the beat is very dark and nas seems to fit every beat perfectly. At first the song is about simply.. Smokin'. But Nas tells a story of a street war which shows the harsh reality of the streets of Queens. But we all know that Nas can't just go from a horrible compilation album to a smash hit without some mistakes. Luckily Braveheart party was clipped from the album last second, it is horrible. But equally as poppy and unlike Nas is Rule
which features Amerie and is produced by Trackmasters, which is very unlike Nas. The whole song is based on the old tears for fears song and it is very corny, and the only skippable track on the album.
is actually pretty good. Though the beat is average, Nas does a nice take on "My country tis of thee", changing it to "My country shitte
d on me". Nas has some nice verses on this track, but unlike most of the other songs, the music doesn't really go with the Lyrics, which Nas has always done throughout his career.
That's about all the bad in it. Even songs that should've been bad aren't. Such as The Flyest
which a groovy, laid back beat and great backing vocals that makes Nas and AZ out to be two Dolemites. The lyrics aren't incredibly deep, but the beat is funky enough and the song is very entertaining. On You're Da Man
, Large Professor gave Nas an incredibly Retro beat, with nice peaceful strings, and a strong drumbeat, with introspective lyrics from Nas, has potential to be another single (It was the B-Side of Got Urself A...).
But the reason this album is slightly above a 4 star album and makes the leap to a 4.5 is because of 2nd Childhood
, and What Goes Around
which are not only the best on the album, but arguable better than anything on ILLmatic.
has an amazing beat, with scratching, a beyond catchy Slap Bass, and euphoric feel with great storytelling lyrics about people who can't grow up, it's a sad song but incredibly beautiful, and the reason why many people refuse to call Nas a rapper, but instead refer to him as a "Lyricist" and this song makes it very hard to argue with that.
But the standout moment is What Comes Around
which contain the strongest lyrics since The Notorious B.I.G.
's "Suicidal Thoughts" and are better than any other lyrics Nas has written. The song has a dark acoustic guitar and light keyboarding, with strong organ work. But Nas delivers lyrics that give me goose bumps every time I hear or read them:
"Sisters up in my hood trying to do good given choices
When pregnant drop out of school or have abortions
Stop working hoping that they find a man that will support them
Up late night on they mothers cordless, thinking a perm or
Bleaching cream will make better when they gorgeous
White girls tanning, lypo suction
Fake titties are implanted, fake lips thats life destruction
Lightskin women, bi-racial hateful toward themselves
Denying even they blood
"The China-men built the railroad
The Indians saved the Pilgrim
And in return the Pilgrim killed em
They call it it Thanksgiving, I call your holiday hellday
Nas paints his most detailed picture on this Track which is lyrically one of the most underrated songs of all time. This sing will blow the mind of any Rap fan.
The cd contains a bonus track Every Ghetto
which has an okay beat that gets a tad repetitive, but great rapid-fire lyrics, this song definitely isn't a throwaway.
So Many were expeting Nas to make another ILLmatic, and he almost did. The album isn't as consistent as ILLmatic was, and ILLmatic's beats were better, but this album is better than great and a little below classic. Though some may see it as just another feeble attempt to recreate ILLmatic... AGAIN, Nas really has moved on, and we can pass off the last 6 years of Nas' futility as "Writer's Block" as Nas comes back into the conversation of best rappers again. And this album along with ILLmatic are sure to keep him in the top 5 for at least another decade.
Even Greater Lyrics
A Truly Unique Album that features Nas back at the top of his game.
Isn't as consistent as a certain other Nas album
"What Goes Around