Can't Fade Me
While most attention paid to Cassidy has either concerned his murder trial or recent near-fatal car accident, he of course first made his name coming up on the freestyle battle circuit. That his album work never really got too much notice shouldn't be a surprise though: his first album, Split Personality, was handcuffed from the start by a mundane R. Kelly duet, in the midst of a slew of such Kells collaborations; and his most recent project, I'm A Hustla, featured a weakly-produced lead single maligned by an already cliché Black Album vocal sample and then trotted out B Boy Stance, more known for a its anti-50 Cent video, another uninspired career choice. To play computer A&R for a minute, if Cassidy and company had instead chosen Can't Fade Me, a smoothed out slice of soul guest starring Nas and Quan, although it may not have guaranteed pay dirt, it at least would have been a welcome change of pace. For Nas' part, his verse is a cross-country travel, a semi-sequel to God's Son Get Down.
I Want It
E Money Bags has been a presence in Nas' music since the early days. However, that he was a part of a less musically-inclined side of things, namely crime, is the most intriguing aspect of the story. And while his murder in 2001, allegedly by the order of legendary boss Supreme McGriff, in retaliation for the killing of Black Just, did shed some public light on the interbreeding of rap music and the streets, there are connections beyond this one court case: connections between guys who touted platinum sales and guys who toted steel weapons, those who rapped with 5-percenter-based rhymes and those who used the faith almost as a gang recruitment tool, and those who took on mob personas and those who never needed to act at all. And though Nas' work with E Money Bags on I Want It doesn't reveal the world, it does confirm the relationship between the two, a relationship that most likely went beyond what anyone would ever volunteer to admit, "If the street could speak and sidewalk could talk / Everybody business be heard - so I prefer / To blueprint every plan amongst fam clear / Don't wanna risk a billion dollar plan, the walls have ears."
Number One with a Bullet
Even as you hear Nas proclaim, "9-6 shit" at the beginning of Kool G Rap's Number One With A Bullet, it hardly sounds as if from that time period (probably because it got a mixtape look in 1996 but was recorded much earlier). For starters, the dancehall-styled hook and the ugly-in-a-good-way production all point to the early 90's, but the real evidence comes with Nas' own verse. Keeping in mind the differences between his Illmatic and Escobar periods, Nas' rhyme-scheme is not as dexterous as it would prove on It Was Written, his voice has been intentionally deepened a la I'm A Villain, and his content mirrors the snuffin'-Jesus shock-orientated style he primarily sported early on in his career. Lastly, Nas' reference to the 41st President of the United States is a dead giveaway, "aiming a Tec at George Bush, he's a sucker."
Quick to Back Down
A lot of people, those with their own agendas and then those with their own guilty conscience, have taken the title of Nas' upcoming album, Hip-Hop Is Dead, to be a big smack in the face of the southern rap scene. While Nas, now on numerous occasions, has denied this, people are still going to pick and choose their own drama. Part of what they will conveniently forget is that Nas has never shied away from reaching out and working with those on the bottom of the map, i.e., Da Backwudz, Cash Money, Devin the Dude, Jermaine Dupri, Ludacris, Master P, and Scarface. Even the poster boy for Atlanta's own recent rise, Lil Jon, has twice been a collaborator of Nas', the first during the early climb of goblet mania. That song, Quick to Back Down, though officially credited to the Bravehearts, showcases a rather raucous Nas, at home over Lil Jon's mosh pit-ready production and still basking in his post-Ether victory, "I'm a Braveheart veteran / And y'all already know who I'm better than."
Speaking of Ether, Nas' menacing verse on Jadakiss' Show Discipline, from March 2001, should have hinted at what was to come that infamous December day. Although the hook borders on self-parody, the beat manages to find its own pace, that of a threatening creep. In turn, Nas serves up his own night-stalker flow, "Speech totally calm / Hold a dead rapper's dome in my palm." Of all the sides of Nas we've seen, nasty, arrogant, vulnerable, introspective, nostalgic, political, etc., perhaps the continually most interesting mood on the mic he's displayed over the years is this crypt-keeper character. This is Nas encompassing many of those aforementioned attitudes but taking them in a direction beyond the margins: murky, eerie, surreal, almost occult. It's where his imagery captures more than what most see and his pen acts as if a mystic guide, "Leave no prints on the toast / Played with Ouija boards, burned frankincense with a ghost."
The Braveheats f/ Lil Jon, Nas: Quick to Back Down
Cassidy f/ Nas, Quan: Can't Fade Me
E Money Bags f/ Horse, Nas: I Want It
Jadakiss f/ Nas: Show Discipline
Kool G Rap f/ Nas, White Boy: Number One with a Bullet