Hate Me Now
If you troll around enough online, message boards to blogs, discussion tends to take on this awful Groundhog Day quality: the same bait posts, the same threads headed with "less than" and "greater than" signs, the same gossip, links, bad information, and bad spelling. Ultimately, the impetus for most of this activity appears to be simple attention-seeking, like it's a room full of rambunctious tots trying to see who can yell, "fire", the loudest. A generation masking their own identity crisis one dial-up connection at a time, the Nelson Muntz's of the game. Am I being cynical? Okay, but if you hang around Punxsutawney for a while, you're sure to find my cynicism validated. It's a
In 1973, Nas was born to a coward. Over his youth, he spent time developing his own cowardice and knack for hiding indoors while all the real street dudes were outside. In 1994, he got jerked by a record company and dropped an overrated album full of lies and big words that put together didn't mean anything. He remained broke until he pretended to be a heavy drug dealer and sold his soul for some Street Dreams. Then The Firm flopped, his girl ran to another rapper, he made a bunch of uncomfortable club songs, was about to have his career read its last rites, until Jay-Z resurrected his relevance and pen. Jay-Z still killed him anyway. Nas' kufi got smacked off, he wifed industry leftovers, dropped a double album no one bought, became an employee of his enemy, and is going to release an album, if Def Jam / Jay ever let him, that will be another commercial disaster full of contradictions, corn, and lies. Plus, he's uneducated, a snake, and his own crew doesn't even respect him.
Add in a couple catchphrases, some tough guy talk about Nas' daughter, and you've basically been caught up on the last half a decade of message board postings. The reason I bring this all up is to say it's easy to tell when someone's hating for hating's sake and when bias runs deep. However, if I had to pick one period in that span of Nas' career where the description above most closely mirrors popular opinion, it'd be the moment where Nas was making awkward club songs and suddenly was saved by battling the rapper Jay-Z. This seems to be a pretty common conception, and an errant one as well. As I have written previously, if people were only to give the QB's Finest album the time and credit it was due, they would see that, an entire year before beef ever hit airwaves, Nas had mostly left the You Owe Me mind state aside in favor of a return to the stoop poetry of Illmatic.
Released after Nastradamus and before Stillmatic, QB's Finest features one of Nas' most fierce verses (Da Bridge 2001), one of his most honest (Self Conscience), and then a detailed episode of childhood, one of his most winningly reminiscent, Kids In Da PJ's. Over a beat that has this slight Godfather-Nino Rota tinge, like where a young Vito Corleone returns to his native Italy, and with a somewhat sped up delivery, as if memories are charging to the surface, Nas takes it back to elementary age. At once, you see a kid eating Bon Ton Cheese Popcorn and earning gold stars in grade school juxtaposed with, "hearing shots rang out." So you get the All-American portrait contrasted by a side of things only a part of America really knows. But Nas' point isn't to be melodramatic or preachy necessarily, because, from the music on the dial to the activity on the court, it's all just a very clear picture of adolescence he's describing, the innocence and inspiration, third grade in forty-five seconds. (Kids In Da PJ's may also be familiar to some as the opening verse on the mix song, The Second Coming, itself a compilation of three QB's Finest verses over a French Hip-Hop instrumental.)
Another one of the QB's Finest highlights is Find Ya Wealth, a solo Nas outing. Nas begins by tracing his career path, "shit did change course since ripping it with Main Source." The song then repeatedly hits on the theme that even in a situation where you're coming from a lot of grime, there's a way and a reason to persevere. Perhaps the best example of this is found in the second verse, as a young Nas browses a jewelry store and is laughed aside by the owner and a customer, "I said, 'I'll be just like you soon, motherfucker what?!'" As opposed to other raps Nas spit at the time where diamonds and chains are a central figure, with that excess occasionally weighing down the lyrics, here Nas represents something truthful and expresses it with all the intention and determination of the out-to-hustle kid we knew from '94. All in all, Find Ya Wealth and Kids In Da PJ's both underscore the point that even during Nas' most maligned artistic periods, there's enough good material out there, but only if you focus on the music and not just the rhetoric.
Nas: Find Ya Wealth
Nas f/ The Bravehearts: Kids In the PJ's
BONUS: Nas: The Second Coming