Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Understanding is the A-Side to Life is Like a Dice Game's B-Side: both made around the same time, after Illmatic and before It Was Written, both unreleased, and both essential Nas. However, there is a difference between each song's production base. Whereas the Norman Connors sample on Dice Game is a bit obscure, the usage here of Grover Washington Jr's Mister Magic is a bit obtuse. Known in its own right, Mister Magic also put work in on old school staples, such as Salt-N-Pepa's My Mic Sounds Nice and Jazzy Jeff's A Touch of Jazz. For some purists, where an overused groove may make for a stale sound, the recycling of the already reinterpreted can lessen a track's potency. But, and enough respect to Cheryl James and Sandy Denton, between 94-96, Nas was so nice you could have had him flow over a dial tone and he still would have come off fresher than anyone who came first. Understanding proves that much.

Despite its title that references 5% Percenter theology, Understanding is primarily a brag song. What keeps it alive though is Nas' control over words, demonstrating once more the importance of a good vocabulary to a great rapper, and, most importantly, a flow where you can literally hear the bounce from the booth. His delivery approaches levels of effortlessness perfected by Snoop, malleable, syllables like dominoes, one setting the next off, itself just as head-nodding as the beat, and never stale.

Now I'm the average nigga in the street life, God
I try to beat trife odds, drive my elite through the night fog
And park--there's Buddha to be sparked this consistent
The beast smells the L because it travels long distance
Cruising in his Chrysler, pursuing niggas in my cipher
Start wilding like insane asylum on Riker's Island
Verbal assassin, I murder freestyle
1-2 for the gun crew, 3 drinking Cristal an'
I play the side 'cause the words of man kill
Proverbs buck out my grill, real as Ill Will, keep still
Nobody move, nobody die, why must I be high?
Busting at trife bitches, touching mic switches
It's like a hot spoon of heron, a Don like Peron
Females love the guns I be wearing, plant my seed to live infinite
Indeed in my sentences, I flow demanding, that's understanding

850 Tempo, but rugged like a Pinto
Chop shop Hip-Hop, burn the block intro
High priest release voodoo
Deja Vu on this taboo
Illmatic shit and what have you
Chef cocaine cook, no brain and got the proper diction
My composition bleeds words and weed blurs my vision
I'm freezing in time, stop the rhyme
I'm sober in the stolen Range Rover, much crime
I--stick up America, Nas in your area
Disrupt the sound barrier, clowns get rounds of terror
A 4-5th with more clips than Clint had in his era
Dirty Harry, cold black, the uncanny of Kojak
Or Beretta, sticking up trucks, carrying Amaretta
Clever to entice herbs and mice 'em and while I'm pricing
Niggas, like you're slaves, best behave, I'm the nice one
Nas, broke it down from Nasir, peace protection
Pop Duke's resurrection, international hoes I'm sexing
While you be fucking one section
Question, does a lonely mic give me an erection?
Yes an' on the float like the Jetson
Futuristic, rapping mystic
Bust it, try to diss it, while my finger's on the iron biscuit
I rhyme terrific, sparkling like the diamond district
It's understanding

Nas: Understanding
BONUS: Grover Washington Jr.: Mister Magic
BONUS: Jazzy Jeff: A Touch of Jazz
BONUS: Salt-N-Pepa: My Mic Sounds Nice


Anonymous Colin said...

On that '4-ef' line I think it may be "full" something. It almost sounds like "full whip." But that still doesn't make sense. On a search of urban dictionary I found that '4-f' is to be ineligible for the draft too...but it's too long to be just 4-f.

But really, I don't know. Damn low-quality unreleased tracks.

And on the 're-hashed sample' topic, as long as you flip it a little it's fine. The same sample is used on AZ's "New York" as is on Common's "Gettin' Down at the Amphitheater" but it's different in both situations (and they're 8 years apart. Whereas Mobb Deep used it basically the exact same way as AZ only a year later.

Kind of straying a little, but I noticed that on G Rap's album "Road To Riches" most of the samples have been used many times again. Less so on other albums, but damn he's been jacked.

April 26, 2006 10:50 PM  
Anonymous steve said...


How you know so much about the production? I been trippin off this track for a minute but no ones heard of it except few nasir heads on message boards. i'd love to know a bit more about how songs evolved to be. much props to these posts.


April 27, 2006 10:42 PM  
Blogger trey p. said...

damn, i am glad i found your page, linked from I-don't-remember-where. great stuff on da backwudz and hip-hop in general. really enjoyed the one mic essay. don't stop!

April 28, 2006 8:58 AM  
Blogger cjeleftheriou said...

Much love. Just found your page. "Understanding" is hot. I found it about a week ago and got addicted right quick.

Just another example of why Nas is one of the most skilled lyricists on the planet.


May 23, 2006 12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No criticism just want to correct the lyrics so the rhyme is understood properly.

In the 4th line it's not beat....It's "Beast" a reference to cops in QB at that time.He makes further reference to it in the next line when he says "cruisin in his Chrsler"...Those were the cars cops drove back then.

In the 10th line it's not Proverbs, but guard my grill...It's proverbs buck out my grill. In other words I spit proverbs.

In the 11th line he says Nobody move, nobody die, why must I be high Not Nobody move, nobody die, homicide be high.

In the 13th line he says a Don like Perron...It's a play on words referencing the champagne Don Perrignon

In the second verse the 12th line Nas just mis pronounced his words when he said a A 4-wif he meant to say a 4-5 meaning a 45 caliber. If you rap you definetly do this from time to time.
In the 15th line he says... Clever to enticen herbs and micem while I'm pricing.
In other words when he sees a herb that's pumping something he puts fear in em and gets whatever they sellin at a discount or free.

G Dubb

May 26, 2006 5:39 PM  
Blogger Fletch said...

G Dubb = clutch

thanks much, man.

I'm not claiming to be perfect, so I can definitely use a correction or two or five when they're needed.

I owe ya something. So if there's every a joint that's expired by the time you get to it, email me and we'll get that worked out.

Also, if you ever wanna contribute your own lyrical breakdown, hit up the email too and we can get to specifics.

May 26, 2006 7:15 PM  

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