Friday, March 10, 2006

Cell Therapy

Within the past couple days, reporters have found it increasingly difficult to conduct interviews with the ever-hyphy San Francisco Giants heavy-hitter Barry Bonds. The not-so-agile-anymore left fielder has explicitly stated that all questions regarding steroid use are off limits and will most likely result in the termination of any post-game banter. However, it is precisely this issue of performance-enhancing drugs that everyone wants to talk about. Around Bonds, "Balco" has become a dirty word, but t seems like everyone in the public eye, from all stars to rock stars, has had at least one crime in their career always nagging them, on their heels, just a step behind. Chappaquiddick. Ishtar. Nastradamus. Nastradamus is Nas' Balco, except it was more performance-damning than anything else.

Moving past Nastradamus's Bad Idea Jeans-inspired album title and cover, there are maybe only five tracks that I would listen to under my own free will. Of those five, only three would I try and defend. Of those three, only Project Windows and Last Words really stand up all that well. But since that first mentioned, Ron Isley-crooned number is really just a rehashed, polished version of an I Am leftover, Last Words remains the true sole survivor of Nastradamus, and one of Nas' most unique songs.

There's anticipation all over Last Words. The drums sound like the roll of a Judgment Day trek to death. The background singing accelerates the drama, a high-pitched, high-hung choir cry towards the inevitable. And then in between a nicely-weaving chorus, Nas and Nashawn lead with verses that are more eulogies than hype, more embattled than battle. They speak with a final sound to be heard. For Nashawn, it's a constant challenge, chaos without an end, "a twenty four hour song without no hook." For Nas, this cloud, this shroud of loneliness, has only one equal, the prison cell.

While One Love might have featured Nas corresponding with associates behind bars, Last Words has him taking the place of those very bars themselves. Personifying the bare bunk, the tired floor, the storied walls, the closing gate, and reflecting the state of mind that they all cast into despair, Nas creates a lasting impression of a lasting depression that is too common to too many. Some time ago, thanks to a great opportunity from my work, I visited California's Folsom State Prison. While the observations which I have kept with me to this day are too many to list, the idea that Nas hits on a couple times throughout his verse proved true: "I'm a prison cell, six by nine."

The reaction to the size of the cell is undeniably immediate. In a facility of thousands, with years of operation, and legends of history, a few scant feet are truly the most telling. Just literally walking inside, crossing that threshold between a large population of inmates on the outside and in there a post for no more than one or two, is quite a visceral experience. And that's knowing you're not locked behind and will be moving on with the tour shortly; actually facing living that way, waking up to confines that must seem as if they're creeping up on your every day, is, as Nas puts it, to feel as though you're "alive inside a coffin." Often times we only think of space in terms of physical dimensions, but in instances when size transcends metric measurements, psychological ramifications are limitless. The prison cell is one such instance, where space is so constrained, pushing against you, as if someone literally has their hands to your neck, you may fight to make a sound, a last word if you only could.

Face to face with a cage, no matter your age
I can shatter you, turn you into a savage in rage
Change ya life, that's if you get a chance to get out
Cause only you and I know what suffering's about
Nas f/ Nashawn: Last Words
BONUS: The Ohio Players: Good Luck Charm

4 Comments:

Blogger Logan said...

What about "Come get me", classic Nas Premo track, the second verse is fire and surely aimed at Jigga

March 11, 2006 10:00 AM  
Blogger easye7 said...

Yeah, Nastradamus had some classics on it like Life We Chose, God Love Us, Project Windows. It may be Nas's worst but that still makes it better than 95% of the albums that came out that year.

March 11, 2006 3:32 PM  
Blogger Fletch said...

Come Get Me is one of the 5 tracks I'd listen to but wouldn't go outta my way to defend. The beat is kinda cookie-cutter Premier, and the lyrics only become interesting when you, as you say logan, apply them to subliminals in the Jay-Z beef. Cool, but that duo should be doing classics not just "cool songs."

Life We Choose, after Project Windows and Last Words, is the only other track I'd defend.

The rest of the album is a cross between horrible and mediocrity for the most part. I hold Nas to a higher standard than 95% of the rest of the rappers, so it's still wack to me, even in comparison. There are some marginally passable numbers, but, for the most part, Nas was pretty lazy with his rhymes and the beats were rather watered down or just plain garbage. (Dame Grease is evil.)

March 11, 2006 8:00 PM  
Anonymous tm0 said...

Yea, Nastradamus is a pretty awful album but it does have some special songs in it.

1. Last Words
2. Lookin Out Project Windows
3. God Love Us
4. Life We Chose

And come get me is iffy imo, the rest is pretty much average, at some points reaching disgusting lows that are hard to listen to. Its hard for me to even think of "Big Girl", smh @ the thought. "Some Of Us Have Angels" is above average now that I think of it, but this album was definitely his low point.

March 12, 2006 4:32 PM  

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