In telling the story of Nas, to start at the Queensbridge Projects is obvious. That's the spot which birthed the hopelessness of Illmatic, police raids and pushers, gunshots to gravesites. But it was also coming from such a desperate place, the largest housing development in the U.S., as Nas would say on Da Bridge 2001, that inspired the drive to stretch past these traps and tell the tale of the otherwise ignored. From seeing his best friend killed to fiends lined up like it was free lunch a vial a serving, Queensbridge is the center of the Illmatic narrative and the heartbeat of Nas' words. More specifically though, the actual window in the bedroom of his QB apartment, which Nas has documented as his front row seat for all the drama outside, is most important in understanding how the music of Nas came to be what it's now famous for; his observations, the stark details applied to his rhymes, and the imagery in his writing all were born out of the vision he adapted looking out of project windows. It is therefore fitting that one of Nas' most personal songs took on this very title, Project Windows.
Released on the almost-otherwise-horrible Nastradamus album, however awkward or sloppy the rest of the LP sounds, Project Windows, for five minutes at least, manages to remind audiences of the poetry that catapulted Nas to 5 Mics. Capturing grime from the gutter up, Nas' initial verse witnesses the human wreckage first hand, "crippled dope fiends in wheelchairs stare, vision blurry, 'cause buried deep in their minds are hidden stories." Here he constructs their physical profile and then takes you inside their very condition, life bled dry by addiction. Next, by preaching personal efficacy and education, the following verse is more a plea to change up from this cycle of self-destruction. Finally, finishing up the track, Nas combines the approach of the previous two verses: where the first described project life, and the second tried to school on ways to escape its limitations, the concluding chapter brings us inside Nas' home, inside those projects windows, to describe his own upbringing and the model passed down to him from his mother and father. At times, the story is bleak, detailing not only the darkness out there but how alluring that path can appear. Yet, Nas attempts to balance the degradation with his own success as a guide.
The production on Project Windows also manages to convey a distinct emotional texture: nostalgic but melancholy. The sad strike of piano notes and the singing of Ron Isley particularly succeed in accomplishing this mood. However, the original version of the song, entitled The Game Lives On and attended for the I Am double album, offers a different take. There Ron Isley is completely absent and the backdrop is much more bare bones. Because of this difference, fans of Nas have debated back and forth over which edition of Project Windows is the most successful. Criticisms of the remake primarily stem from it being over-produced, with the singing being a significant offense. The OG song, they argue, more accurately captures the raw feeling of Nas' rap. While it is a little unfair to do a direct side-by-side comparison, because The Game Lives On is missing about half a verse and isn't studio mastered, in its defense, the Nastradamus cut at least utilizes Ron Isley well, weaving him in throughout the entire song and not just on the hook. Moreover, its polished sound shouldn't be confused with a mundane one, for it is full of feeling just as well. Ultimately, the production sounds more complete, rich, and, in this way, it resonates with the quality of Nas' voice and words especially.
He's finished for the rest of his life, till he fades outNas: Project Windows
The liquor store workers miss him, but then it plays out
So many ways out the hood, but no signs say out
Nas: The Game Lives On