Everybody has a hustle. From the president to probably even your mailman, there's a "get money" gene in most of us. Bootleggers, whose historical identity reeks of rum-running and smells of speakeasies, perhaps epitomize this idea of the American self-made businessman: he's got a scheme where his soul should be, a hustle where his heart used to lie. And even though you don't need to brew your gin in a bathtub anymore, the bootlegging tradition has carried over to pretty much any avenue where profit is the end result. In the context of rap music, the bootlegger is an especially infamous character, able to screw over artist and album alike in a single bound. Specifically, the spectre of this street corner salesman has loomed large over much of Nas' own career, for instance, sabotaging what could have potentially been his most creative and ambitious project, I Am. But bootleggers, at least online, have taken advantage of Nas' music in another way as well, almost opposite in direction though: instead of stealing new music and selling it, now you can buy music of Nas' that is rather old and simply repackaged. That's a hustle indeed.
From EBAY to mixtape sites to other online locales of varying credibility, you might have seen advertisements for something known as the "Death of Escobar" bootleg. The most common tracklisting attributed to this project is as follows:
1.After Life (Intro)
2.Drunk By Myself
3.Blaze a 50
5.Just Another Day in the Projects
6.U Gotta Luv It
7.I'm A Villain
8.In Too Deep
9.Poppa was a Player
10.Sometimes I Wonder
11.Stay Dreamin' Stay Schemin'
12.Tales from the Hood
13.Wanna Play (Rough)
Well, that's a lie. For starters, the Death of Escobar album, which Nas had reportedly planned to release after Nastradamus and before thoughts of Stillmatic ever crept in, never produced much more than a couple news blips and some DJ Clue screams. So whatever tracklistings are being passed around are pure fiction. Within this proposed lineup, you then have a handful of songs that were specifically from the I Am bootleg (2,3,9,10,11,13), several of which were already released via The Lost Tapes. (Wanna Play Rough, which always seems to get the "unreleased" tag, was officially put out on a 2000 Dame Grease compilation.) And although U Gotta Love It might not have been on the I Am bootleg, it too was part of those Lost Tapes. Next, I'm A Villain and Just Another Day In The Project would be better suited for a "Death of Nasty Nas" bootleg, since they're from even before Illmatic.
Additionally, the inclusion of In Too Deep and Gangsta Tears really underscores a gullible audience and a wily compiler. Both songs are released, never a part of any major bootlegs, and less than rare even. It's just that they're hiding on soundtracks to movies not many saw and less listened to. In Too Deep is from LL Cool J's movie of the same name, while DMX's Exit Wounds originally housed Gangsta Tears. In fact, Tales from the Hood remains the only legitimate DOE track listed here: still unreleased and from the general timeframe of 00-01. All in all, whether you're buying a Death of Escobar bootleg or simply buying into it, know what you're paying for and what you're getting played for.
However, if there is one plus to these backstreet shenanigans, it's that the number of people who would check for an "unreleased Nas album" is far greater than those holding tight onto their Exit Wounds OST. So, in this way, if we can all agree that the music is the bottom line, as many people hearing Gangsta Tears as possible is a good thing; it's one of Nas best featured songs, and one of his most atypical as well.
Gangsta Tears first debunks the theory that Nas only sounds good over basic boom bap Illmatic style beats. The production here, contributed by Budda, is rather interesting, composed primarily of slightly-stuttered percussion and background cries. It's not the steady New York thump we might expect from Nas, but he rides it expertly nonetheless: his tone mellow but delivery moving with a bit more step. Secondly, as Exit Wounds hit stores in early 2001, this reflects a period of Nas' career typically known for crossover club attempts and gaudy jewelry and rhymes. Contrasting this idea however, Gangsta Tears is more downtrodden, lonely, burned by women and left empty by legal tender:
I'm soul-searching, I'm so hurtingThe overwhelming source for the grief captured here happens to be revealed in Nas' second verse: the murder of his long-time friend Barkim. Going all the way back to Represent, you can hear Nas mention Barkim, and though there's not much written about him other than what's been relayed through the music, circa 2001, the references Nas made started becoming more of the mournful sort, "'Rest in peace, Barkim' is all I could whisper." Knowing this then, that the funeral scene described in Gangsta Tears is not merely a creation of Nas' pen but is a reflection of his own personal experience, only enhances his already intense words. It too exposes the other side of the hustle.
What happens when money don't make you happy?
I wish this on no person
Nas: Gangsta Tears