Escobar Season PT III
When we last left off, our hero, Nas Escobar, was atop the rap game, but danger lurked ahead . . .
The Escobar story's second act, where complications arise, came in 1997. While It Was Written offered generic pop samples production-wise and floss lyrically, it at least did so in a balanced, often thoughtful, and overwhelmingly successful way. A year later, when The Firm album finally came out, Esco was still on stage but the beats and rhymes were altogether stale, uninspired, and overwhelmingly poor. The Firm flop would prove to be the first noticeable dent in the Golden Child's stride. Without going too much into why that project failed (beef, record labels, politics, Teena Marie), let's narrow in on why specifically the Escobar persona met its demise.
Almost a decade since The Firm, the only song you'll really hear heads reference in any positive manner is Phone Tap. Everything beyond that is bad memories and a dope Canibus verse. What's more, even in circumstances where Nas puts out a poor LP, mixtape and mp3 fanatics can usually point to a number of a unreleased gems and say, "look, it really could have been better if . . ." Unfortunately, with only a couple minor exceptions, there's nothing from The Firm that demands another installment of The Lost Tapes series. In fact, beyond the already-posted Time, the one other example of such a track is really just an average verse from an alternate version of Desperados.
On the unreleased sequel, Desperados II, Nas starts things off decently, gets in a few good lines ("kill bitches with the dick, then call Cochran"), but, ultimately, makes Escobar seem like a shadow of yesterday's neon-studded shine. In comparison with the delivery and rhymes that had just come from It Was Written, Nas was clearly getting lazy. There he had done the boasting thing well, while still providing a keen street sense and a legendary lyrical precision; however, with The Firm, the brags were for brag's sake, by-the-book, and hollow on the whole. Perhaps the best example of this is with the line, "horseback ride hoes / these black desperados / in 4.0's." If you'll also recall another line from '97, Jay-Z, on Imaginary Player, immortalized, "you bought a 4.0, you better get your change." While any on-point MC is capable of turning coke stories and fashion labels into memorable raps, with his flow tempered and words neutralized, the whole entire Esco steez had turned bland. Then particularly compared to a guy like Jay-Z, who, on Imaginary Player, epitomizes doing the most with boasts, when The Firm album hit stores, Nas no longer sounded comfortable, no longer stood alone at the top. Not only does Jay shrug at the very suggestion that Nas' ride is worth the tall talk, but his delivery is more memorable, his rap more creative, his swagger still intact.
Even if Nas didn't admit at the time that the Escobar luster was fading away, he would soon. The Rise and Fall, unreleased but recorded post-It Was Written, is Nas' story from humble beginnings to excess, from excess to distress, from distress to closure. Using a vocal sample from Take It In Blood, coincidentally, and then Slick Rick ("the rise and fall of my fast lane style"), the open and reflective beat provides ample room for four minute's worth of revelations. Thematically, Nas traces the give-and-take of his success with a look at cars. In the beginning can-it-be-all-so-simple times, "it was cool, wasn't mad, I had to take cabs." Next, after contracts were signed, "eyes popped when I drove my first ride on the block", and the wealth spread, "Infiniti's for my girl for giving birth to my queen." However, finding out just how foolish minds become when the color's green, Nas laments how this lifestyle soon attracted the usual cast of sharks and snakes to his side, "so-called mans would plot on my chips." Here his ride has gone from a mere method of transportation to a status symbol, then, suddenly, becoming a liability and, finally, a last line of defense, "pistol in my car, full clip." But it wasn't just the streets out for theirs.
In what is Nas' most anti-Escobar confession, he admits, "I was frontin', niggas thought I was rich . . . repo looking for my Lex, back then I wasn't buying." The extravagance of the era, that every bit of extra, he's telling, was all just a pose, a way to look. Unfortunately, in doing this, in playing up the Forbes magazine profile, Nas expanded not only his pockets but also the bullseye on his back. He would soon see the corner traffickers' jealousy and eyes growing at the same exponential rate, "woke up in cold sweats, thinking about all these murders that know where I rest." In the midst of trying to grab twice as tough for what was just beyond his reach, Nas had left himself exposed and, in the process, risked losing everything he worked to secure in the first place. A borough of threats and an appearance too demanding to maintain forever soon took their toll. Deceit tore away at trust, excess corrupted substance, fame invited foes, and an image distracted a man.
For Nas, as soon as success stumbled, as it inevitably does, it all came crashing back down to that cold concrete, "my cars were auctioned off, now I catch rides with kidnap niggas." Zero-to-sixty-in-seconds had become too fast a life to keep up with any longer. He would later separate himself and, eventually, his rhymes from this invented character, returning the poet to his rightful place and honesty to the forefront once more, "Not from Columbia or Nicaragua / Don't distribute coke from Antigua that shipped out to Panama / Pablo Escobar's bloody reign came to an end / Far from my life, a kid who made his fame through a pen."
The Firm f/ Canibus: Desperados II
Nas: The Rise and Fall