There are a couple standard reactions to songs by Nas: damn, that was dope; damn, that was dope, why's it have to be unreleased?; damn, that was dope, why's it have to be a featured verse?; damn, that was dope, why's it have to be an unreleased featured verse?; damn, that was dope, why's it have to be an unreleased featured verse with some third-rate rappers? That latter statement should be your reaction to A Few Good Niggas.
As products of cronyism, Boston's Made Men infamously received 4 1/2 mics in The Source for their debut album, most assuredly helped along by personal and business ties to Dave Mays and Ray Benzino, Hip-Hop's own Romulus and Romulus. In the process of booby-trapping the magazine's credibility, the negative press received in reaction to this story also put to a crawl an already lethargic career for the Boston crew. Try as they would to make a follow-up to the so-called Classic Limited Edition, Black Friday played like an self-conscious acne-ridden teenager and never saw the light of day. But of the artifacts left over from this failed project, the Hangmen 3-produced A Few Good Niggas features two dudes dubiously-named Manterror and LO, alongside an authentically 5-mic'd Nas.
Returning the favor for the Hangmen 3 team having previously blessed Stillmatic with its Intro beat, Nas travels QB to Boston. Over eerie strings and horns that are brought to a crescendo and then a wallow, underscored is the importance of a good vocabulary to a great rapper. Now this isn't to suggest that one cannot effectively express themselves monosyllabically or that we all need to praise Canibus for his super-scientific style, but many of the greatest rappers of all-time have demonstrated quite a proficiency with words. And if I can get cliché for a moment, this is because the beat is the canvas, the flow is the brushstroke, the verse is the end image, but it's the strength of the coloring, the words, that often prove most convincing in the final frame; the paints you choose, light or dark, how you contrast, etc., this is the very pulse of your piece. The words you use, the rhymes, the references, your poetic tools, how you articulate your point, etc., this is what moves the crowd, this is what constructs a masterpiece. (Nas = Edward Hopper?) In today's particular portrait, Nas isn't just proving that his vocabulary expands beyond normal Hip-Hop vernacular, but choice selections such as "defiant", "emerge", "pupils", "miserable", even "spooky", while they're not terribly complicated--and shouldn't have to be--they are distinct, dynamic, meaningfully used, and expressive in both sound and thought. The language lets you know it all.
A Few Good Niggas also demonstrates that Nas is in his comfort zone when he is least comfortable. If you look at Nastradamus or The Firm, overwhelmingly jiggy and living-it-up times, he's out of his element. Awkward in this state, bad music was made. But when things move from starlit to dark alley, when the mood is desperate, when Nas raps out of frustration or anger, there's a quality to his music that is undeniable, a resounding realism. On an occasion such as Illmatic, we saw a young man walking neck-and-neck with Hell, where, as life was losing its hold, it was if he could project the necessary strength to endure through words alone. For most artists, complacency doesn't translate into good art, and while pain shouldn't have to be a pre-requisite, the moments of drama, of despair, of doubt, of needing to prove yourself ultimately prove most lasting.
As the blunt hangs low from my defiant lipsMade Men f/ Nas: A Few Good Niggas
Smoke emerge in the shape of halo's, the chronic's lit
My hoes are pornographic, flow's orgasmic
Doe stackin' strict as Joe Jackson--training five kids to blow
Fraction of my mind died years ago