Review Summary: One great song and a bunch of crap.
Money is a funny thing. When you don't have it, you want it. You dream about it, and wonder what it would be like if you had some. Queensbridge rapper Nas' classic debut, Illmatic, will forever be considered one of hip-hop's greatest achievements, and the day it was released the money began rolling in for the son of famous blues musician Olu Dara. Unfortunately, that lifestyle Nas became accustomed to turned out to be hazardous for his musical career, after a while it seemed like he wanted nothing but mainstream success. It Was Written was a underated if inherently contrastive sophomore album, and it marked the birth of his Escobar persona.
A few bright moments prevented 1999's I Am..., which came out six months before Nastradamus, from being a complete failure, and hip-hop fans became more and more worrisome that subsequent Nas albums would be just as bad, if not entirely worse.
And boy, were they ever right.
No longer was Nas the introspective and intelligent prophet that painted vivid pictures of the harsh realities of ghetto life. No longer did his rhymes include innovative rhyme schemes or the multi-syllabic flows that he had become famous for.
No longer were his lyrics sharp as they had once been, nor was the production as musically stimulating as it had been in the past. In a matter of a few years, the guy went from being hailed as Rakim's successor to being considered washed up by most critics and fans alike.
For instance, the album's title track, Nastradamus, is not only one of the worst Nas tracks I've ever heard, but perhaps one of the worst hip-hop tracks ever recorded. First of all, the production is incredibly awful. Horrendous synthesizers are the focal point of the beat, and they are simply torturous. His rhymes are even worse. Before, Nad would brag about being a great emcee with his imaginative wordplay, but on this album he boasts about how "his pants sag down to his feet," and how he owns Bentleys, Porsches, and DRJ watches.
Now, I don't have a problem with rap where artists brag about the wealth they've acquired, but for crying out loud, they should have the creativity to do it in an entertaining way. Jay-Z did it extremely well on Reasonable Doubt, but Nas' lyricism lost all complexity and therefore credibility on Nastradamus, instead of utilizing his impressive vocabulary, he sticks to using slang that would maybe impress five year olds. On Come Get Me, which includes one very unoriginal DJ Premier beat, Nas' fascination with the gangster lifestyle, which he tries to portray himself living, continues. That in itself is completely laughable, as we know Nas is no gangster, and what makes things even more pathetic is the fact that Nas legitimately tries to pass himself as one.
And that's not even the worst track on the album. If you choose to stop reading this review when you find out Ginuwine is featured on You Owe Me, I will understand. Even worse production is present on the track, this time of the uncharacteristically whack Timbaland, it's nothing but commercial fluff where Nas raps about his fame and fortune and Ginuwine's atrocious singing does nothing but solidify the fact that Nas wanted this album to be full of nothing but club bangers. But he failed miserably at that, even.
God Loves Us proves Nas doesn't care that he's a hypocrite and can be woefully ignorant at times, as long as he gets the mainstream sales he wants. Family, which features Mobb Deep, is nothing but a boring posse cut that lacks all of the chemistry that old tracks Nas, Prodigy, and Havoc recorded together have. The other tracks revolve around the same clichéd subject matter with the same elementary lyricism that does nothing but make us appreciate Nasty Nas so much more, and fuel our hate for the very lame Nastradamus.
If there is one redeeming aspect about the album, it's Project Windows. For five minutes Nasty Nas returns to share some of that vintage street poetry that we always enjoy, his retrospection about growing up is very much appreciated. His lyricism is far more complex and creative than anything else on Nastradamus, and it certainly shows. I personally enjoy Ronald Isley's singing, but interestingly enough the production is inferior to the that of the unreleased, bootleg version of the same track, but even so, the "official" track benefits from a nice piano driven instrumental.
If I were you, though, I'd go and hunt down the great version of this song, easily found on any file sharing program out there, and forget about the average one that's on the actual album.
With that said, this is a horrible album. One of the worst hip-hop albums I've ever listened to, in fact. Fortunately for Nas' career, this was the worst it got.