Escobar Season PT II
While several of the tracks from It Was Written featured obvious pop loops, the Live Squad production on Take It In Blood stretched back to the soul of the Fantastic Four and the voice of Kool Keith, of the Ultramagentic MCs, to propel the hook. Although concept and storytelling songs were frequent from Nas at this point, Take It In Blood is really just three verses of pure swagger, "put poetry inside a crack pot and blow." As well, here an out-for-gusto attitude is highlighted once more, ".45 by my scrotum / manifest the 'do or die' slogan." This was a common theme for Nas in '96, if only for the fact that, on a professional level, he was trying to stake out the major career that Illmatic had failed to establish. Success was a "now or never" proposition. But beyond merely saying something memorable in his raps, It Was Written proved that his rhyme schemes would push their effect even further. Standing as his most stylistically-inclined and pose-heavy portrait of the world, Nas perfected both the what and the how: saying something dope and making it sound even better.
There are movies with such bursting visuals that you can literally watch them on mute and appreciate how they work just the same. Similarly, on Take It In Blood, you can choose not even really to listen to the words but rather simply focus in on Nas' vocal patterns, his flow, and appreciate the skill just as easily, "Rossi and Martini sipping / Sergio Tacchini flipping / Mad pies / Low price / I blow dice / And throw 'em." "Rossi and Martini sipping" is a reference to the Turin-based vermouth manufacturer, with "Sergio Tacchini", also an Italian creation, being a nod to the renowned garment designer. It's Nas with a glass in his hand and foreign threads on his back--that's the what. The how, the actual rhyme scheme, is best described as a line of dominoes, where words become these malleable units, one merging into the next, and setting off a reaction down the way. "Sergio Tacchini" is a separate idea from "flipping mad pies", but by merging them together, "Tacchini flipping", Nas accomplishes the rhyme with "Martini sipping", connects two separate concepts together in a rhythmic structure, and sets the narrative on its way down a new direction, like dominoes falling in a row.
However, if Nas' rhyme scheme changed up after Illmatic--a response to basically all East Coast Hip-Hop jumping on his '94 style--he never allowed it to cloud the observant eye and visual imagery that had previously sent him to the land of 5 mics. On Take It In Blood, Nas still paints a picture, a scene in slow-mo, where "city lights spark a New York night." Watch as the sprawl of skyscrapers and the treasure of towers zooms in a single man standing defiantly against the evening, "bloodshot, red eyes, high." He holds "yellow envelopes of lye", his other hand cutting back the head of an imported vice, "opening cigars, let tobacco fly." Add in another apt simile, assisted by a well-placed sound effect, "spraying shots like drum roll", flashback to Memory Lane, "sunshine on my grill, I spill Remy on imaginary graves", and, all in all, you would be hard-pressed to find another MC whose descriptions were so vivid, whose language was so precise, whose world was so clear.
Illmatic brought in a hoard of critical praise, but sales seemed like suicide. Led by his Escobar persona, Nas came back with something different. It would have been so easy for him to just rehash the style and sight of that '94 classic, but it also would have been a copout and most likely meant poor sales again. So he took his gift as the game's best narrator, got a team of hitmakers, injected a dozen medics' worth of adrenaline into his flow, and came back hungrier. On It Was Written, Nas has the mindset of a man who's acquired some fame but hasn't achieved all his goals yet. It's Nas at his most charismatic, reflecting the hustler who not only wants the whole world but knows he's owed it too.
Nas: Take It In Blood
BONUS: Fantastic Four: Mixed Up Moods and Attitudes
BONUS: Ultramagnetic MCs: Ease Back