Get Dis Money
The introduction to the world of Illmatic took place behind window shades, where a money count was the principal focus. When a project warrior later morphed into this all-out Escobar figure, the gusto grew and the dollars chased in the dream expanded just as well. Sensing a backlash, Nas' '99 anthem was a Cristal-soaked strike at the growing number of critics lining up against the rapper, "don't hate me, hate the money I see." In many ways, this quest for cash is what drove the early QB narrative, and, when Nas actually achieved that status, started counting his stash with the shades up and in the whole world's face, it's what moved many away.
To say the least, money has starred as the subject of many of his Nas' rhymes. He's not the exception however, because, for many rappers, especially during those jiggy times of the late 90's, the paper chase has long since been a heavy presence. At a certain point, popular music all over really got touched, as even R&B singers started serenading their stacks of green. Perhaps this money-minded mentality was nowhere more evident than on R. Kelly's 1998 double-opus R., where a handful of big-name MC's and the Chicago singer cooked up such splendid titles as "Spendin' Money'", "Dollar Bill", "Only The Loot Can Make Me Happy", and "Money Makes The World Go Round." Nas was one of those big-name MC's invited along, and the collaboration proved to be a match made in commerce heaven.
Beyond being two of the biggest acts of past decade, R. Kelly and Nas share a couple other points: both debuted in the early 90's, both were signed under the Sony BMG umbrella at one point, and both made countless records with the hitmaker team of The Trackmasters. In fact, it was the Trackmasters remix to Nas' Street Dreams, which they had produced in the first place, that initially linked QB with Chitown. While the Choosy Lover sample and R&B-led hook only continued to piss off purists disgruntled with Nas' changing beats, the duo kept on. Two years later, the aforementioned 2LP R. was released, with Nas close by and financial means at the heart of the matter.
The first of '98's two collaborations came in the form of Money Makes The World Go Round. With a simple piano track and background vocals moving throughout, the Trackmasters production sets a rather calm tone. Just off the title, most would assume the song nothing more than a big brash celebration of excess. However, it really frames money as this thing we all chase after, but, when you have it, you find it only goes so far. Nas, no doubt looking at life with a new perspective in the wake of It Was Written's good fortune, could surely attest to the ups and downs of the dollar. In this way, he's able to speak to both sides of what money means, "When you poor, it's like life ain't even worth living / But when you rich, is every fat ass worth hittin'?" This last question is asked from a pessimistic, almost disappointed position, like the man who spent his whole life on a hustle, trying to make it large, gets there, and can't enjoy what he's got, for any number of reasons. Yet, later in the verse, Nas shows he's still caught up in the illusion, "it's V-12's, honeys on the cell." This presents a contrast, where, on one hand, he knows everything that's big isn't always worth its height, but he can't quite shed the materialism either; it's really a very human condition, where you're often stuck between two sides and can't decide which to follow ("rap about big paper or the black man plight?").
Nas and R. Kelly worked together once more, for the remix to Did You Ever Think. Again, Poke and Tone were behind the boards, with the subject of money hoisted back to center stage, "Did you ever think that you would be this rich? / Did you ever think that you would have these hits?" Taken from the track's hook, these lines might be mistaken for pure bragging. And while the song is more celebratory than not, it's not necessarily the money they're celebrating; instead, it's coming from poverty to being paid that's reason to rejoice. Nas' verse does its job to explain this much:
We ghetto, never thought we'd ever reach this levelAt the same time, though we can talk about Nas catering to both sides of the coin, his own rhymes, R. Kelly's singing, and the overall production come off generic at points. There's a certain chemistry the pair share, more so than any of the other rappers featured throughout the double album even, but it's not like this is all-time classic material at hand. Moreover, eight years later, though still listenable, both Money Makes and Did You Ever Think smack of a 1998 sound. You can also hear the faint ring of a cash register in the back.
My people behind metal - the streets coulda had us
But now we live lavish
R. Kelly f/ Nas: Did You Ever Think (remix)
R. Kelly f/ Nas: Money Makes The World Go Round
*NOTE: Primary contributions to this entry by Eli Jabbe aka Ill E. Thanks.--Fletch