Friday, October 06, 2006

Gangsta Tears

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
4.Gangsta Tears
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)
14. Outro

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 hurting
What happens when money don't make you happy?
I wish this on no person
The 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.

Nas: Gangsta Tears


Anonymous guyberg said...

The I Am... album, originally intended to be a double-album (by most accounts), and the bootlegging it suffered will always ensure plenty of debate amongst fans of Nas' unreleased music. This was an interesting write-up because it included details on the ill-fated 'DOE' album that, as you identified, contained many of the cutoffs from the I Am... production floor. The tracklisting you provided is the same that I've got when I downloaded it, with a couple of differences. First off, Track 5, 'Just Another Day in the Projects' actually turned out to be the mastered 'Project Windows' tracked, off the Nastradamus album. Track 6, 'U Gotta Luv It', was not yet finished and contained a noticeably sped up Nas voice and AZ sample. Track 7, 'I'm A Villain' was in fact the '2nd Coming' blend that in my opinion is an unreleased classic, despite borrowing verses from the QB's finest CD. The Outro was in effect the Foulness freestyles. I'm not sure who came up with this fake tracklisting in the first place, but it does make for a pretty decent compilation nonetheless.

I would also like to say that I seem to recall Fletch saying he would end the blog after the new Nas album comes out, if this is the case you should reconsider as this site is a gem and is enjoyed by many.

October 06, 2006 6:44 AM  
Anonymous vince said...

"I would also like to say that I seem to recall Fletch saying he would end the blog after the new Nas album comes out, if this is the case you should reconsider as this site is a gem and is enjoyed by many."

I'm from France and I read those articles every 2 days and ask all of my friends who like Nas to take a look around. In my humble it's the only "good" nas ressource site over internet.
I often have the tracks you're talking about but I like the "history, chronlogic" way you describe it.

Keep it up Fletch, you kick some ass.

(I don't post comments often because my english isn't very... ok, but don't worry I'm here.)

see you. vince

October 06, 2006 9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fletch, have you peeped the new word from YN at XXL on Hip Hop is Dead?

October 06, 2006 10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I would also like to say that I seem to recall Fletch saying he would end the blog after the new Nas album comes out, if this is the case you should reconsider as this site is a gem and is enjoyed by many."

I hope this isn't true, This is what I look foward to in the morning when I come into work. Say I wont kidnapp fletch and tie him to a chair to make him write blogs everyday. (okay maybe I wont)

October 06, 2006 10:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does the first verst from I'm a villain start? I think there are two versions of this song. --Esco

October 06, 2006 10:52 AM  
Blogger Fletch said...

Guyberg, thanks for the DOE bootleg description. Seeing as I had all the songs already, I never really bothered to download it myself. Sounds pretty random really.

Anonymous II, the Elliot Wilson (XXL) piece on HHID I posted as a footnote of sorts to the recent "Kiss The Ring" entry -- it's not quite worthy of it's own entry.

Anonymous III, I'm A Villain, which I will get to eventually here, begins, "I'm the nigger / walking with his finger on the trigger / make enough figures / until my pockets get bigger."

And yes, this blog will end shortly after the new albums comes out.

October 06, 2006 11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And yes, this blog will end shortly after the new albums comes out."

Boo! Please don't stop after the album drops!!!

October 06, 2006 11:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a different Im a villiam for DOE, not the pre-illmatic one. sounds like premier produced it. --Esco

October 06, 2006 12:42 PM  
Blogger Fletch said...

Reread Guyberg's response. Apparently the version on the "bootleg" is the Second Coming, a blend of three Nas verses from QB's Finest over a French Hip-Hop instrumental.

"Death of Escobar: The Misinformation Edition"

October 06, 2006 12:52 PM  
Blogger Aegis865 said...

I was wondering how much longer you would be able to come up with such in depth and informative posts.

Its a real shame, this blog is one of the most impressive on the net.

October 06, 2006 1:15 PM  
Anonymous Colin said...

"Gangsta Tears" was actually one of the first Nas songs I heard. I attacked Napster with a ferocity back when I first heard a Nas song and it was one of the 15 or so songs I got. It instantly became one of my favourites and I still love it.

Great song to put up an entry on.

October 06, 2006 3:59 PM  
Anonymous stu top dude said...

good look fletch... Gangsta Tears is one my favorite Nas joints that no one ever talks about... I remember it droppin when I was around 15, and playin the hell out of it...

I think, besides the explicit reference to Barkim, it's also influenced by Carmen... "women left me lonley... I'm soul searchin... I'm so hurtin"... This would've been the time Nas was feelin the brunt of the whole Jigga affair.

October 06, 2006 4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Flech do you happen to havea tracklisting for the original I Am bootleg? Or better yet you think you can *please* do a post on the entire I Am fiasco. Which tracks got leaked, didn't, which ones showed up on the album, or on Nastradamus, Lost Tapes, etc? Thanks.

October 07, 2006 10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


First of good job on highlighting "gangsta tears" that along with Drunk by myself and in too deep are my favorite nas songs. One suggestion if you gonna end soon is just respost your old post (if you still have them). I found your site pretty late and some of the songs in your original post's I'd like a chance to get. It's just a thought.

October 08, 2006 6:25 AM  

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