Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Seeds of Heaven

Nas as a political rapper is sketchy at times. Well, first you have to go back and define "political rap", which can be trouble of course, but, for the sake of right now, let's say that Nas' forays into the sub-genre include such songs as I Want to Talk to You, Rule, and American Way. These are attempts at activist anthems, often explicitly, aimed at the ears of elected officials. However, said attempts have also fallen flat, for Nas seems to lack the substantive qualifications to address many of these subjects with the acuteness they require, nor does he quite have the wherewithal, in this arena at least, to precisely articulate the position of those he's set himself up to represent. Conversely, a rapper like Boots Riley, of The Coup, has shown to not only have the ability to see the faults of the government but to address them on more than just a surface level. Then you take an Ice Cube, who, for a period in the late 80's and early 90's, spoke for a portion of society with all the intensity and brutal sincerity their story called for. In the process, both rappers demonstrated focus and poignancy, their raps resonating more efficiently. Now this is not to say that Nas' entire career is based on broad accusations and ambiguity, but it's when his sight moves from the QB block to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that his commentary can become taxing.

For an example of this difficulty, look at Blackness, recorded back in 1999, and known as well as Seeds of Heaven. (It also was redone last year as We March As Millions.) Here Nas, again, begins by urging "senators, government officials" to "sit at the conference and listen." He then proceeds to travel to the steps of Capitol Hill, referencing Hitler, and mentioning the man who first invented the gun. However, the manner in which Capitol Hill is brought up says, "this rap is concerned with national politics, but only so far only so far as naming an obvious landmark goes", the Hitler reference then is just as shallow as any jiggy rap that scrolls through a laundry list of designer wears, and of, "the cat that invented the gun", that line is left as vague as possible. Ultimately, Nas' message proves more convoluted than cunning, more impotent than all else.

Fortunately, elsewhere in Blackness, the song as well plays into Nas strengths: his knack for often haunting lyrics, his narrator perch, his poetic language, his vocabulary, and his signature complex rhyme schemes. Because of this, what we're left with lyrically is a song that treads in murky waters but still maintains a heartbeat. When the specific C-SPAN agenda is pushed aside, and the track is allowed to evolve without political pretenses, honest and unassuming, Nas' words win.

The rejection of what's right could mean you're in denial
It either breaks you or makes you become hostile
I swallowed many lies before tasting the truth
In the beginning, there was darkness, beautiful you
Nas: Blackness
Nas: We March As Millions

2 Comments:

Blogger MiThRaZoR said...

I don't know if it's just me but on the song, you can't really hear Nas. But still, it's cool. It's a nice song.

September 14, 2006 12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yea i wish there was a non"mixtape-dj-cant stop yellin on the track" version of blackness out there, but i love the song!

fletch, thanks again for finding this song and doing a piece on it!
i agree with you that at times nas can come off a bit weak when he delves into political issues. usually getting too broad with his lyrics and making some out of place references. but at least someone has managed to get some commercial exposure and wealth, and still have the heart to say what they feel. i imagine thats why many people visit this blog and why you write.

i hope nas continues to grow and that def jam will allow his tracks that would previously have been unreleased, until a "lost tapes" popped up, to come out on the studio albums.

keep it coming!

nonimus

September 15, 2006 11:46 PM  

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