Friday, March 31, 2006


This time in Nas-related news:
  • Remember how excited you were when you found out about the Nas / DJ Premier Scratch magazine cover? Then remember when the pessimist / realist in you came out, and you figured that the promise of this collaboration would somehow be upended by disappointment? Well, as reported by the swanky DJ Premier blog, in an interview with Taiwan Nights, an Asia-touring Primo mentioned having begun studio work with Nas: "We just started, couple of days ago, the day before I left. He was mad I had to leave, but I just told him that I had to knock off this tour." Thanks to Model Minority for the initial heads-up.
  • Are you going to be in the Tri-State area on May 18th or 19th? If so, The Roots will be hosting a special friends concert in anticipation of their forthcoming Def Jam-release Game Theory. On the 19th, big names like Erykah Badu and Mos Def are scheduled to stop by, but the day before might be the headline-stealer, as Nas, Common, and Talib Kweli find themselves all sharing the bill with Black Thought, ?uestlove and 'em. More guests yet to be announced. And if they're not sold out already, tickets are on sale now. I'm sure we'll hear more about this.
  • What separates a weed carrier from an understudy? I don't know, but Nashawn (aka Millennium Thug), formerly of Last Words and My Country, is looking to elevate his status with the release of his forthcoming debut, Napalm. Nas should be close by. I only hope it's as good as The Bravehearts album! Moving on . . .
  • A Killah Priest interview with tells us that while The Offering still hasn't found a label home officially, Nas, amongst others, will be making an appearance. Murmurs have even hinted that maybe KP will be coming to Nas' yet-established Def Jam imprint: "We've been talking! He got his thing going on right now. I don't wanna say too much on that. He's doing his thing, I'm doing my thing. Of course real recognize real and real respect real. We knocked out a couple of things." Let's hope "things" means objects of a positive quality.
  • Speaking of Killah Priest, the leaked KP-Nas track, The Saints, where Nas respit his I Am-lost Curse verse, continues to make its rounds on the mixtape circuit. Check out the write-up from Also, the jackin' for beats Nasdaq Season Begins '06 and the Papoose-featuring Across The Tracks, both of which have been available for at least a couple months now, get their shine.
  • Back in January, during an appearance on LA radio (KDAY), DJ Quik announced that he and Nas had some work lined up. Hopefully, they just stay away from the Madonna samples.
  • Know about Lupe Fiasco yet? This is more like Nas' influence-related news, but Lupe Fiasco is a Chicago MC with a set of mixtapes, a handful of buzz, and a debt owed, in part, to the QB MC, by Lupe's own admission. See, Lupe has even admitted that during the making of his forthcoming Food & Liquor debut, he tried to mirror the scheme and sound of Nas' sophomore release, It Was Written, "You know I really tried to go back and recreate It Was Written, you know what I'm saying like that? I would play It Was Written and then I would play my album, and it was like, ‘Do we got this record, do we got that record?’" Kick, Push video premier.
  • Back with more Youtube for that ass, here's Mrs. Nas being Bossy and looking the best she ever has? Nas is referenced through a "Mrs. Jones" piece of jewelry, but will show up in person, or rather in voice, on her next LP, The Puppeteer, "it's kind of explosive." Hopefully, it's also kind of better than In Public.
Handcuff me to a rusty tec and I still prosper
Hip-Hopper, I do this for love, not 'cause I got ta
To watch ya--is like the making of a phony mobster flick
Behind the scenes on some fake thug shit
Nas: Nasdaq Season Begins '06

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Realty Rap

"My own backyard, famous home of rap stars"
--Nas, Destroy & Rebuild

Nas finds home on a vacant block, takes from the best building material of those who came before him, hires out an all-star design team, and fills in the interior to an unparalleled precise detail. Kind of small though. Nevertheless, the foremost real estate commission gives it their highest rating. Everyone wants to move next-door.

Across the way from the Illmatic residence, Nas tracks down some higher-market real estate. With the help of a couple associates, the move is realized, and the house becomes his. Nas decks it out in a glitzy fashion, all done up, with a wardrobe full of pink suits.

After the death of one of his closest neighbors, Nas looks to expand his property share. However, the request for a permit to double his lot size is turned down. These designs are left as scraps for a later day. Nas reacts angrily, letting his architectural vision become clouded with the vain and unfortunate. Then, much to the surprise of everyone, he erects a large cross in his front yard. Friends come over and play.

1999, seven months later
Immediately after the disappointing results of the I Am estate, Nas starts building again. From the onset, the laying of the foundation is hurried. This time he even leaves his original neighborhood entirely, moving in the direction of something more breezy, where the sun makes everything feel light. Unfortunately, he sets up right in the middle of tropical storm You Owe Me. Nas' blueprint is left in shambles, and he hardly has a square to stand upon. People wonder if he'll every make it back.

Nas attempts a return home. However, a confrontational neighbor looks to stifle this comeback, and the tenant's association also initially proves unsupportive. Regardless, a defiant Nas pours a toxic substance into the plumbing of his enemy's pad, and the opposition's stronghold on the land soon begins to crumbles from the inside. Nas is back on the block. A throne is visible from the living room window.

Nas splits time between the funeral home and a U-Haul storage unit full of old breakbeats.

Figuring that he has maintained a generally reputable and longstanding relationship with them, Nas' housing review board allows him to follow through with the long-delayed plans to double his original lot size. Unfortunately, while the first level is maintained with a deal of precision and finesse, that focus and spirit in building are lacking on the second story. Then, when it comes time for an appraisal of the grounds, the estate suffers from failed expectations and low public turnout.

Post-1996, Nas' homes have been betrayed by a number of missing parts. Key support arches have been absent, whole rooms have been boarded up from general access, and essential maintenance work has been ignored. That is to say, Nas has a wealth of Lost Tapes, material that could have otherwise gone to support and further strengthen his respective projects. Sure, the first compilation satisfied desires to hear definitive versions of No Idea's Original or Blaze a 50, but what happened to its rumored sequel? Where are Amongst Kings and My Worst Enemy? Sometimes I Wonder and Serious? Time and Understanding . . .? Somebody needs to give these tapes a home.

Sinful Living is one of those tracks currently feeling through an almost-decade long bachelor status. Unattached and, as essentially a freestyle over the Street Dreams remix beat, most likely to remain as such, this unreleased gem showcases Nas hitting in his signature It Was Written style, with his most dexterous of flows. This is what seperated him from them. A number of rappers may rely on a very basic cadence, almost like every rhyme is delivered in a slugfest fashion, quite deliberately. Then the more agile can mix it up, add in a couple quick jabs between the heavy blows. But at his best, Nas took it one step further, dancing around words like Ali in his prime. During his own prime, Nas' flow was lively, rhymes literally gliding off each other, ricocheting to the next, as if this were a game of tag played with the hands of a magician and the feet of a sprinter. Matched with this rhythmic grace and a number of well-executed double rhymes, Sinful Living is on one hand a technical success.

In addition, content-wise, the unreleased wins again. Throughout his career, while Nas has occasionally captured a lifestyle where money is portrayed as a hollow distraction (One Mic, Gangsta Tears), he too has penned songs that swung more in the opposite direction, towards excess (Hate Me Now, Made You Look). However, here Nas plays to both sides, at his most honest and even fatalistic, "probably when we dead we better, the problems ahead? whatever." This desperate sentiment is then followed by allusions to flowing champagne and large-money pursuits. It's the same feeling as the old-time bank robber who wants one last score, one last dash for cash, that he has to know, in the back of his mind, can only end bad or worse. That's the allure of the light, the dirt you go through to reach the highest highs, and the price you pay when you inevitably hit bottom, Sinful Living.
In this street life, by now the beast might be least white
Stash the heat right, my pops past the peace pipe
And shed light on, he put me right on, to be an icon
'Cause dead niggas got their names wrote up in krylon
Nas: Sinful Living

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Ultimate Taboo

A post-I Am Nas was in search of an identity. After a series of changes, from Nasty to a run-of-the-mill Cristal sipper, Nas seemed lost. Fortunately, by the time the Jay-Z feud came around and with the arrival of a moment named Ether, Nas reasserted himself as the ever-defiant, lyrically-minded New York rapper not to be written off. Still, this identity was in reaction to another man, so just as Nas would say of Jay, "[you] came in with my style, so I fathered you", a rebirthed Nas was now Jay's progeny by extension, at least. However, about a year after Stillmatic, Nas reemerged once more, standing as tall as before, but not needing to be associated with any other rapper for relevance this time. This change was signaled with the call of the classic Apache breaks on 2002's Made You Look. It was in this one moment that Nas summoned forth all the energy and grit of a near-three decades worth of Hip-Hop and stamped out a millennia style all his own.

Breakbeats defined the charging sound of God's Son. While there were tempered moments abound, the power and sweat of these enduring cuts gave the album its ultimate kick and Nas his step. Made You Look, in its first-single position, was the initial hit, but the album's actual opening silo was found elsewhere in the crates. Primarily based around James Brown's Funky Drummer and The Boss, the sonic thrush of Get Down was a brilliant mix of old-school grooves and modern swagger. Although Nas' constructed careful series of vignettes are not to be overlooked, James Brown truly owns the stage here. Because of this, I recently asked someone who I know to possess a Yoda-like knowledge of music to break down the breaks, those that revived Nas and too once reintroduced James Brown back into popular culture a time ago. That someone, John Book, hit me back with the following response. From this perspective, you see the pioneers of Hip-Hop and the pulse of James Brown coming together in an undeniably important moment in music. John Book illustrates not just how Brown gave Nas, or any other of the many rappers who've sampled similarly, an ideal sound to work off of, but how, in turn, these b-boys would give Brown a bit of a push themselves.

These days, James Brown and Hip-Hop go hand in hand, almost to the point where some people probably think James Brown invented Hip-Hop. While he did not have a hand in its creation, his music was a spark that helped light the fire for what was to come. Brown had been known for his dance numbers as much as his ballads, which showed hints of the pop craftsmanship of the 40's and 50's, and the R&B sounds of the day. They were bright and they were happy, and his voice was as unique as anyone else's. But what set him apart from others was a need to be a bit more grittier, to take soul music to a higher level. The passion of his lyrics would turn into urges, and that urge became the emphasis of what we now know as funk. James Brown made it a regular practice to change the roster of his backing band, and in time he would find a group of musicians that would not only pave the way for his brand of funk, but for soul music in the 70's, the second coming of funk later in the decade, and a move from jazz artists to get locked into an updated groove.

By the early 1970's, soul music was paving the way for another happier, brighter sound, disco. For young kids who had been exposed to James Brown through their parents, they wanted more of those good vibes they were getting from songs such as The Funky Drummer, Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose, and Funky President. Unfortunately, with disco taking over, that old style of funk was considered outdated. However, if you are a young kid with a love for your favorite music, you are naturally going to fight for it until everyone knows about your mission. One of these people who fought for his music was a Jamaican-born, Bronx-relocated DJ, Kool Herc. Incorporating the mobile DJ systems of Jamaica into his new surroundings, and complimented with booming speakers, Kool Herc took his records to the people, and the people moved. You couldn't hear these songs on the radio, but they were certified classic and the start of something special.

What people looked forward to in those songs was the breakdown, when James Brown would often tell his band to "give the drummer some." That was their cue to stop playing and allow the drummer a few sections to share his talent with the listeners, a chance for the musicians to take a "break" from playing. In time, that "break" would be the cue for people in a basement or street to dance and show off their new moves. Soon other DJ's would learn how to manipulate a record, or two records, so that that break could be played for three minutes or longer. It was nothing more than looking at your parents' phonograph and wondering what else could be done besides stare at the knobs and lights. The ultimate taboo of touching the phonograph without your parents permission became a challenge, and these experimental techniques would become the emphasis of DJ'ing and turntablism.

Subsequently, in the early 1980's, people in the know were making rap music their own, most of it recorded with a backing band recreating older songs or playing variations of familiar tunes. The idea of taking a record and rhyming over it was limited to a live capacity, but the recording studio was about to expand its limits with the introduction and acceptance of digital technology. The equipment that was used to digitally record any audio source was not meant to make music, per se, but when it was discovered that it was possible to record small sections from a record, one could "replay" those elements without actually needing two turntables and a mixer. In this way, the method of mastering those records was eliminated with convenience.

Around this time, while club DJ's were playing old James Brown records, his own career wasn't faring too well. Brown went through his disco phase, and when disco died by the late 70's, it slowed down many careers. He kept on working, but sales were suffering. Nevertheless, while the appreciation of James Brown's music was not widespread, his funk trades always maintained a loyal set of devoted fans. And it was those fans who helped bring those dead records back into the forefront. One of the first of such instances to honor James Brown was Lesson 2 by Double Dee & Steinski, part of a collection of songs submitted for a contest sponsored by Tommy Boy Records. Double Dee & Steinski won that contest, and the label wound up releasing three different "Lessons" as promotional records, with Lesson 2 being the ode to the Godfather of Soul. Young kids who were into rap music were now hearing James Brown for the first time, and there grew an awareness of something more than Parliament/Funkadelic, Ohio Players, or ConFunkShun.

However, with all of his classic records either out of print, hard to find, or high priced, even back then, knowing about James Brown's music meant really just knowing. Luckily, Hip-Hop found a way to spread the music and soon it seemed as if every rap album had at least five James Brown samples. What this did was revive someone who was pretty much dead by industry standards, and said thank you by sampling him. This was sampling before there were any laws, rules, and regulations, so you could experience James Brown's music still without having any James Brown records. Even if you didn't know it was James Brown, you knew it was funky. But the curious wanted to know more and went out of their way to find more. With interest sparked again, Polygram Records, who owned all of the legendary performer's music, would started reissuing these one displaced treasures. Their liner notes revealed a revival of his catalog, but didn't pinpoint why. By the end of the 80's, Polygram had to give it up. It was Hip-Hop and its sampling ways which gave James Brown a second life.

There was a sense of power in those old records, in those grooves, where one could stop for a moment and dance all the distractions and the night away. By taking those elements and letting them repeat over and over, it was an unconscious effort to not want those moments to stop. Eventually everyone had sampled James Brown. But by then, the DJ's who were looking for his old records were exploring other records, making the funky funkier and making the unfunky hip. The inspiration and glory of the golden era of Hip-Hop came from a man who could have easily become a has-been in his own lifetime. Fortunately, Hip-Hop made him valid once more to an older audience who had tossed him aside like some old dresses at a Goodwill bin, while a younger audience, discovering his music for the first time, turned him into their hero. This change would force everyone to re-evaluate James Brown's music and career, thus also putting value into a catalog that would have been ignored or otherwise ruled unimportant. His value as a hit artist would forever be limited to two songs if it weren't for a younger generation finding heaven in those dusty records.
New York streets where killers'll walk like Pistol Pete
And Pappy Mason, gave the young boys admiration
Prince from Queens and Fritz from Harlem
Street legends, the drugs kept the hood from starvin'
Nas: Get Down
BONUS: James Brown: The Boss
BONUS: James Brown: Funky Drummer
BONUS: James Brown: The Payback
BONUS: Double Dee & Steinski: Lesson 2

*NOTE: John Book runs a weekly column entitled "The Run-Off Groove", and his own musical creations and blog are also worth a look.--Fletch

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Triple-A Rap

Cory Gunz, Jae Millz, Maino, Papoose, Saigon, Tru Life: the cause of, the product of, or the cure for New York's declining relevance in rap music?

When a baseball team goes through a slump, the manager will usually shake things up, in hopes that a different lineup or positioning can provide the answer to all that ails the team. A new leadoff hitter may emerge, someone off the bench might find a starting job, or a strong left-hander could be moved in from the bullpen. You keep you perennial players in the spotlight, relying on them to add veteran leadership, and you send up the youth from the farm system to see what kind of spark they bring.

Suffering a multi-year slump themselves, the state of New York Hip-Hop has been on a steady decline. Jay-Z still is everyone's favorite, and 50 Cent can move records better than a fleet of U-Haul trucks, so those vets stay where they are, but the gods of NYC rap, these managers of mutli's, have been trying their best to produce a lineup capable of reclaiming the throne besieged by the likes of Houston and Atlanta. One of the measures taken has been calling up the kids from the farm system, the mixtape and battle circuit, and testing their swing. Each of those aforementioned rappers (Cory Gunz . . .Tru Life) has been heralded, in some sense, as the answer, the key to putting New York back on top. But how real is it really?

Championed as The Second Coming, Illmatic was part of a series of answers thrown by New York back at a G Thang West Coast. With Wu-Tang as a crew, Biggie as a mythic Puffy-led charge, and dudes like Buckshot, Jeru, and OC chiming in on the sides, Nas stood out. Now he didn't exactly blaze the market out the gate, but in recent years, when people have looked to match this new breed of New York up-and-comer with someone from the past, Nas, the 5-Mic, blunted, solo, street poet, who flipped the script in a nine-song set, has been the go-to comparison. They're looking for someone to put out a debut that comes from the dungeons of rap, someone to stand tall and atop the city blocks and bring the crown back. However, try as they might to recreate the same taste that took up a whole coast, Cory Gunz, Jae Millz, Maino, Papoose, Saigon, and Tru Life are working off the wrong recipe.

All of these rappers have their promise based on a background of mixtapes and straight-to-the-corner videos. They are the bastard children of Big L's style and 50 Cent's hustle. Kay Slay, Green Lantern, Smack DVD, these are their vehicles for exposure, their figurative booster chairs to grab a seat at the big kid's table. However, due to a deluge of mixtapes helmed by these rappers, a near flooding of the market, the mystery of and subsequent interest in the up-and-coming NY MC has been struck a blow. They are supposed to be the answer to the home team's slump, but, instead, because of the ubiquity of these mixtapes, especially before any proper album release, any response they represent has been saturated to the point of non-interest.

This notion of mystery is key. Mystery at least implies a personality to arouse curiosity. That curiosity spurs interest, which produces buzz for a rapper or their project, something tangible to grab a hold of. However, if MC Smack DVD has been on DJ 15 Minute's bi-monthly mixes, jumping over every new beat like Busta Rhymes on speed and desert sand, redundancy replaces mystery, and who cares? They've shown all their cards already. (This is not to suggest that there aren't exceptions of a rapper, say a Lupe Fiasco, putting out 2.5 mixtapes before a release date is ever announced and still maintaining a pulse, but Lupe's different in that he has a definable and multidimensional personality, he's something to watch. Jae Millz, Cory Gunz, these guys, they're gray suit rappers, stale in a sea of one-dimension. They grow tired quick.)

Nas' recipe was that mystery, he had buzz. This is what Papoose and Saigon, representing the rather dubious best of the lot of them, don't have. They may own some hype, but in the years they've been building it up, they've also jeopardized what could be a bit of their charm. MC Serch has spoken about Nas' left-field Jesus-snuffin' and how, afterwards, the QB upshot basically disappeared back into the jungle, only to be tracked down just in time for Back To The Grill. Still, in the three years between the release of the Main Source LP and Illmatic, you got only these two guest spots and a soundtrack feature. What you didn't have was a half dozen of-the-moment remixes or see a line of DVDs or a catalog of TV appearances.

While I am perhaps more favorable towards Saigon, though mainly for the Just Blaze association, Papoose is the perfect example of what I'm trying to explain. With some obscene double digit number of mixtapes and all the screaming of a Drama King on his side, Papoose has yet to even officially announce a label home for his debut album. Because of this, one must ask if a rapper like Papoose truly necessitates multiple mixtapes, let alone a dozen. If his most recent collection, A Threat and a Promise, is any indication, that answer might not be so kind. By stringing along and up his listeners with a box full of these recorded odds and ends, not only is any mystery absent, but, in its place, no catching personality has emerged.

Papoose is bland, bereft of style, trapped by his own voice, the mouthpiece of a soldier and not a general. In between senseless posturing (beating up a cab drive is what's hood?) and cliché similes ("New Era like a fitted cap"), while admittedly some good lines and the occasionally clever subject do manage to creep in, Papoose is inevitably sabotaged by his own voice. The voice, the means to translate and articulate whatever's down on paper, is that unteachable talent that can make the mediocre get over, at least, or the promising perish. So despite sticking close to the creative concept behind Law Library, Pap's voice, flanked by a flat line flow, paints the proceedings with a palette of plain, unconvincing and uninspiring. And don't even ask about hooks, because in those moments which often require the utmost of charisma, he just doesn't have it (How Many Shots). Ultimately, Papoose is merely going through the motions of a tough guy, sounding indistinguishable from any other rapper with a low-brim bill and a reported arrest record. There's too much front and not enough swagger. There is no sense of entitlement. And even on a sad type song, for example, Flashback, because his voice is so stilted and stiff, it comes off rather unremarkable, and borderline contrived.

However, Papoose has fans, and I won't try to argue that they're strictly lunching on some Kool-Aid. Those times when he can prove better are when the beats are lively enough to mask some of his vocal shortcomings, and he's able to just ride the Curtis Mayfield horns on home, for example. With a sample from The Other Side of Town and ushered along by Nas, Across the Tracks manages to fare better than the norm. Nas himself actually doesn't come off too well. More a stanza than a full verse, while he still manages to provide some image-strong descriptions ("silver lady with the wings, she pop up, pretty wood interior"), Nas' rich voice helps get over whatever lyrical inadequacies are present. On the other hand, Papoose would seem to have the better rap, but because he chooses to manipulate his voice by simply raising it a register, it's just a louder shade of monotonous. His verse reads better than it sounds.

Not coincidentally, this is the same dilemma Papoose meets with on the recent Touch It remix, where his five finger / five borough breakdown is an on-paper success but a pronounced disappointment. I hate to keep harking on this one point, but if a rapper's voice is graced with no real style or character besides high and low, then it stands a failing means of transporting the music. Hip-Hop is based on the how more so than the what. It's not about what records you have, but how you freak the sample. It's not always about what you say, but how you say it. (And the best MCs can satisfy both the how and the what.) In the end, lacking any real depth, flair, or overall alluring quality, while Papoose isn't an utter failure by any stretch, I can't foresee a future where he plays a part in New York getting its stride back, getting its voice back.
Ferrari floors are clean
Drawers are clean, what?
Verses, all my bars are mean
Papoose f/ Nas: Across the Tracks
BONUS: Papoose: Alphabetical Slaughter
BONUS: Curtis Mayfield: The Other Side of Town

Monday, March 20, 2006

Rhyme & Reason

Hip-Hop and Hollywood haven't always been the best of friends. From the tired irony of the sterile white guy bumping gangsta rap to rather monolithic depictions courtesy of Spike Lee, Hip-Hop has commonly been used in movies as a comic foil, an after-school special, or a broad target. What's more, rarely has it been allowed to speak for itself. And anytime some member of this wild tribe does make to the Hollywood inner circle, it's with a sense of novelty or tokenism, the compromised exception and not the rule. In movies or the general media, Hip-Hop should not be exclusively painted in a positive or negative light, as either beautiful or ugly, as either criminal or safe, as either comical or tragic, but it should have an opportunity to represent itself and demonstrate, through its many faces, that it is all of those above qualities, at least. This is precisely what 1997's Rhyme & Reason attempts and largely succeeds in doing.

As a documentary without a common narrator, director Peter Spirer chooses not to tell this story as a strict historical piece or an exposé. His generally objective lens instead simply captures its subject, dozens of the most prominent rappers of the time, and lets them explain their own side of things. From a concerned Chuck D to an indignant Ice-T, from an animated RZA to a restrained Nas, from a remorseful B Real to an unapologetic Dr. Dre, from a cliché Master P to a surprising MC Eiht, a spectrum of points of view and styles are given their due coverage. No one speaker really dominates the screen time, and no one person is propped up as a champion or used as a fall guy. Additionally, while it was released in the wake of 2Pac's death, and there is a tone of "we have to make a change", as this is done through the sincere words of Treach and the straightforward approach of Kurtis Blow, for instance, it escapes the melodrama and grandiose appeals for MESSAGE that would have otherwise threatened to derail the film's levelheaded tone.

There's some history, but it doesn't tell you everything. There's rappers from all over, but not from every particular region or subgenre. There's some music, but ultimately interviews are more the central focus. Every idea isn't explained to its fullest depth, and some pros and cons may not always weighted the same. But in a well-paced 90 minutes, simply everything cannot be covered. Moreover, what the movie does achieve is a worthy accomplishment. Rhyme & Reason manages to portray Hip-Hop on its own terms, with its own voice, by its own truths, from the inside. This is not a Nightline investigation or a Ken Burns miniseries. This is not a "rap music as the modern minstrel show" rant or a poetic ode so biased by its love affair. It's something very genuine and with many sides.

I don't know what Hip-Hop was meant to be back in the New York blocks of the early 70's or what was rushing through the veins of Rakim or what was popping off on the corners of a Regan-era Compton, so I can't say then if Rhyme & Reason accurately captures that feeling to the most precise detail. However, the movie does convey a very appropriate Whitman-like idea, "I am large, I contain multitudes." Hip-Hop is a culture and a record deal, protest and submission, blunted and sobering, siphoned off electricity and sold out arenas, beautiful and not, and ugly and not too. But then Hip-Hop also isn't just an abstract presence to be read or written about--it moves. Move something.

Other Rhyme & Reason highlights include: "'85 weed drought, '86 crack came through"; Da Brat with a blunt on the toilet seat; Grandmaster Caz explaining breaks; the Jack The Rapper convention; Kool Herc's Riverview 1600; Lil' Caesar from the Air Force Crew performing; LV talking about how he got shot 9 times; Mack 10 getting pulled over while being filmed; a quick innercut of Jay-Z while coincidentally Nas speaks on screen; Q-Tip at a playground asking kids about Wu-Tang; Redman freestyling over Flava in Ya Ear; RZA's East Coast / West Coast breakdown; Speech explaining the styles of DJ's Howie T, Mix Master Ice, and DST; Spice 1's mom going through the photo album; Treach's eulogy to 2Pac; Xzibit on the Stretch Armstrong / Bobbito Show.

10 Quotables

Abstract Reality, Q-Tip:
I've been losing a lot of people lately. It's at an alarming rate. It's sad. I lost five people in the past four months. I don't care who you are. Fuck it, if you niggas are playing all that hardcore shit, stop it, because y'all niggas have kissed your mama before. Y'all niggas have been in vulnerable states where y'all niggas have cried. Ain't none of you niggas out there iron. And if you say that, you're lying. . . . I have faith that people are gonna wake up. I really do, I have that faith.

Against All Odds, Tupac:
The same crime element that white people are scared of black people are scared of. The same crime element that white people fear we fear. So we defend ourselves from the same crime element that they're scared of. While they're waiting for legislation to pass, we're next door to the killer. We're next door to them, because we're up in the projects, 80 niggas in a building. All them killers that they're letting out, they're right there in that building. But 'cause we're black we get along with the killers or something? We get along with the rapists 'cause we black, 'cause we're from the same hood? What is that? We need protection too.

Based on a True Story, Mack 10:
That's where white America pisses me off at. Saying Arnold Schwarzenegger can kill a whole fucking police force in his movie, but the minute Mack 10 talks about shooting one police or something they want to take my record off the shelf. Some of us didn't even graduate from high school and we're making 7 figures. It's hard for you to swallow if you went to Harvard or Yale all your motherfucking life, and you ain't making but $50,000 a year, and a motherfucker like us can make a million. That's hard for you to swallow.

The Breaks, Kurtis Blow:
All of our heroes were killed off: Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, JFK. I grew up having heroes that were the local drug dealers, the pimps, the pushers, the guys with the dough, the guys that were riding around in the Seville's, in the Cadillac's, guys who were flashing the 100 dollar bills, the number runners. The whole thing about Hip-Hop was to wear the gold chain and to dress like the street hustler.

Holy Intellect, Wise Intelligent:
As far as messages go, I'm trying to get across several different things. For instance, there's one side of me that's totally for the preservation of black youth, because we're dying at a rapid rate. The numbers of dying youth is increasing daily in our neighborhood. I can't stand the ghetto. A lot of rappers run around like "yeah, I'm from the ghetto." I live in the ghetto, the ghetto don't live in me. This is an ill situation, we have been put here for a cause, we have been put here to die. That's genocide, man, and that's the bottom line. If I had a chance to live with a stream flowing through my backyard, meadows in my backyard, you think I wouldn't? We're not here just because we want to be hip and fly. It wasn't our choice to come from the ghetto. So as far as staying true to the hood, I'm not really staying true to the hood. I'm staying true to the people that are in the hood.

I Kick My Thoughts Alone, Nas:
After growing up here and seeing my man that lived up stairs getting killed and then my brother shot, that showed me what type of world this shit is. Most of the time I feared about living here was when I was young, when I couldn't defend myself from shit that was going on, 'cause it was older niggas doing shit. It was a big world, and I was young, and all I had was my moms and my brother, my younger brother. So all I did was just handle myself to get to a position where I can say I'ma hold my ground. I'm old enough to control my destiny and not to be bullshitted by no bullshit niggas no more or nothing. . . . I be thinking about going back to school because my knowledge is limited right now. There's a lot of things that I don't know about that I could take advantage of soon as I learn about them. . . . I'm not a big drug dealer with 25 years on my head. I sing rap records, and I can make my bread. I'm not a doctor or a lawyer, but I'm 21 with a start.

P.L.O. Style, Method Man:
As far as the music go, you got your watered-down niggas, then you got your happy go-lucky niggas, then you got your hardcore niggas and your underground niggas. Basically it's all drug blocks, everybody is selling their dope on your block. What we saying to y'all is like this: we got our shit sewed up, so don't try and to come on our block selling your synthetic shit, 'cause you gonna get blowed up. Straight up and down, it ain't happening.

Power, Ice-T:
If a kid is in a gang, then he raps from the perspective of a gang banger. What if the kid sells drugs? He's rapping from the perspective of a drug dealer. What if the guy's a pimp? He'll rap from the perspective of a pimp. When you rap, basically you rap to another rapper. What a gangster rapper says is "you, listener, I will shoot you in your motherfucking face." He forgets about the rules. He forgets about the theory, what's right and wrong, what's message versus non-message. It is reality rap in its truest form, because you take out all the barricades. It's very direct, taking rap to its most real form and just rapping it, just not giving a fuck.

Prophet of Rage, Chuck D:
Sometimes the reaching and the showing off of the Lexus', and the Big Willieism, that's cool for some, but it's a nightmare to most, because 99/100 don't achieve that particular dream. So our particular dreams have to be rooted more in reality. People talking about keeping it real, but you gotta make it real first.

South Bronx, KRS-One:
Rap is something that is being done. Hip-Hop is something that is being lived. A rap artist can be anybody from anywhere, but you got to visit the Bronx. Period. Wherever you are in life, wherever you want to be, you will always be a rap artist until you visit the South Bronx. Look at the projects, look at the people, see the environment that Hip-Hop started in. Go to 123 Park and just stand there and imagine the birth of a culture happening in this very spot.

Nas: I Kick My Thoughts Alone (video)
BONUS: Guru, Kai Bee and Lil' Dap: The Way It Iz
BONUS: Mack 10, Daz, Kurupt: Nothin' But The Cavi Hit
BONUS: RZA: Tragedy

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Q & A

With Death Anniversary yet to find a home on an official release, featured, solo, b-side, or otherwise, it is seemingly caught in no man's land. Leaked in the fall of 2005 and soon attached to DJ Clue's Fidel Cashflow, but nothing else since then, it will likely end up the same way as too much of Nas' best work, unreleased. According to an interview with XXL Magazine, even the leaked version isn't proper yet, as it's missing an entire intended third verse. But what we do have so far is Nas detailing a man's death ("loosen up the nine on outta his fingers"), fitting in a couple 50 Cent subliminals ("pop music nursery hooks"), and foreshadowing his then yet-to-unfold Jay-Z pact ("let's all get together or we losing the fight"). However, perhaps the most interesting narrative portion of this track comes earlier, in the as-of-now first verse. Here Nas poses a series of questions, some extreme hypotheticals. In turn, today's episode of slightly-creative-mostly-corny will attempt to satisfy the queries of our curious QB rapper.

What if I told you that AZ didn't exist?
And I put him there, played it like a ventriloquist?

Life's A Bitch featuring Jungle.

What if me and the rapper homie was really cool?
Well, Nas, you and the rapper homie are really cool now, reportedly. I even think you can stop calling him "the rapper homie." He needs a new name. "Boss" is too demeaning. "Hov" is too desperate. "Sir" is reserved for Bleek. Saying "Jay-Z" might instinctively force you to follow with "damn, you on Jaz dick." And "Sean Carter" is just too plain. Just try calling him "Jay", Jay the rapper homie.

And we used that whole thing as a media tool?
It's hardly believable, Nas, that you would have engineered the whole condom-baby seat fiasco on purpose. I didn't know a person could drive themselves to Front Street like that. But if it was all just a fabrication, then does this mean that all future Ether Day celebrations are hereby cancelled? Hip-Hop beef is people!

Would you say I was a sucker or say I was savvy
If I told you motherfuckas that me n K wasn't married?
Assuming that the "K" in question isn't Kathleen Harrison, British character actor of the 1950's, how would I respond to the suggestion that you and Kelis weren't married? Since this would mean that the awful In Public or the abomination-of-a-hook called American Way might not have ever happened, I would react happily. But nah, you and her, Mulder and Scully, musical eccentrics, go together like carpet floors and blunt residue. Plus, it was nice that you went with K and left B to the rapper homie.

What if Jungle wrote my shit, and I'm really illiterate?
Rocky starring Frank Stallone.

And the whole Nas catalogue was just an experiment?
Dr. Knockboots, it's alive!

What if I really died when Ill Will got shot?
Then "Nasty Nas records" would have been the name of a fledging label. Nas, why do you want so bad to be seen as simple-minded and dead? Ronald Reagan already has dibs on that role.

What If I did all the advertisement thrown my way?
Stop acting like you and your ventriloquist partner didn't do a Sprite advertisement back in the day. But what if you did all the other ads you mean?

PepcidAC: For that shit that makes your soul burn slow.
Valtrex: You be aight like blood money in a pimp's cum.
Check into Cash: Owe me back like forty acres to blacks.
Southwest Airlines: *Big Girl plays* . . . Wanna Get Away?
The Roman Catholic Church: Hoodrats, don't abortion your womb.

And I boned every chick that would throw me some play?
You'd probably have to load another AK, 'cause niggas be jealous, when you real, like them Brazil favelas.

Nas: Death Anniversary
BONUS: Nas & Az: Sprite Commercial

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Worst Enemies

When presented with rap music, there seems to be a questionable characteristic running throughout most of the reviews of largely-white, more rock-centric media outlets, e.g. Blender, Rolling Stone, etc. While I haven't satisfied the necessary Wheaties requirements to make some grand accusations of racism, I do see at least a common trend: Hip-Hop music is primarily portrayed through the mainstream American culture as base or without artistic merit--even if they acknowledge that it's not going away at this point, it still is maligned for its techniques, not respected, and merely commercially appropriated for novelty's sake. However, when some rock-mag rap messiah does emerge, the punk kids go crazy. These token saviors can be described as turning away from the perceived mega-macho attitudes of Hip-Hop, openly criticizing the music for a laundry list of self-congratulating reasons, and adapting outside genres to their sound in order to demonstrate just how sophisticated they are. Waiting at the end of this road is a Rolling Stone, the anti-establishment establishment, applauding these modern CJ Walker's for coming over to their side, dropping the guns for guitars, the slanging for singing, and trying to push Pink Floyd on the savages. So Outkast gets canonized and Phrenology gets The Roots their best reviews.

Beyond this genre-pandering, rappers also commonly receive their most mainstream praise whenever they buck the labels of hard-bitten thugs and emotionless creeps, i.e. since rap is a music so clearly concerned with the misogynistic and cruel, when these Neanderthals find just a moment to make a "dead homies" or an "I'm lonely" song, no matter how trite or unconvincing, a standing ovation arises from the back of the room, as if Frankenstein's monster has just shed a tear. How splendid! And he speaks so well! But, as has been notoriously argued elsewhere, rap music was not begun by bookworms or the sensitive types. However, wanting to satisfy their own pretensions and love-ballad biases, critics who still view Hip-Hop as a second-classic citizen get hyped up at the slightest hint of these wild Negros taming themselves.

However, on the other side of this story is the too-cool-for-school faction. Rebels in Bapes, they fight back against this applause. They'd tell you that critics and fans often confuse quality with vulnerability, hotness with honesty, 2Pac with greatness, for instance. They'd tell you that Pac--and he's merely the poster-boy for this type of reaction--wasn't lyrical, that he kicked that corn for the 'burbs, and they ate it up. They'd tell you that critics are simply envious of the laidback cat who shrugs off pain, so they naturally embrace and exaggerate the skills of whoever clings to and speaks through that pain. This is why, they'd say, quite unfairly, Jay-Z gets pinned down as this bling-mogul and Nas gets crowned the poet.

Nas' God's Son, with its constant allusions to the passing of his mother and the subsequent sadness which he was facing at the time, is the perfect battleground for these two groups. For the first crowd, there is Nas at his emotionally rawest, therefore his lyrical best. For the second squad, there is Nas standing with a frown, championed by gullible listeners under the impression that a strained facial expression is all it takes to make good music. In a specific song example, there is Dance.

Directly dealing with the death of his mother, Dance spotlights a most personal Nas. Again, because of this, some would herald the rapper for shedding the common tough guy front and putting all his grief on record. Conversely, others would suggest that while the sentiments expressed are to be noted, the raps themselves, cliché and poorly written, cannot be given a pass just because they are motivated by pain. Me? I guess I happen to fall in with the latter group, in this case. I sympathize with Nas' experience completely, but that experience isn't ultimately articulated in any especially interesting or compelling manner. Dance is more clunky than careful, more mundane than moving. In fact, it is Olu Dara's concluding horns that prove the most effective element of the song. This is not, though, to suggest that Nas always gets tripped up when his mood is more in a silent way. On the contrary, The Lost Tapes' Fetus provides an enduring tribute to the deceased Anne Jones, plus, even the second verse of Warrior Song says what needs to be said just right. And these are only a couple of his most passionate and equally productive tracks. As another example, one cannot overlook the unreleased My Worst Enemy.

Recorded around 1999, and in a remorseful moment, My Worst Enemy showcases an unguarded Nas reflecting on his previous tendencies to play into the all-that-glitters-is-gold myth and the recklessness that followed. In disclosing this, the conscience has supplanted the ego as the primary guide of thought. With equal parts fear and regret, Nas continues, commenting that he's witnessed too much death, too often "bloody shirts on niggas while they hollering 'til their lungs don't work." Charting back this violence to a life of posturing and excuses born even out of childhood days, we're witness to the resolutions he's committed to achieving with the coming of the new year and century. It's a candid confession and a hopeful step forward. But this song doesn't succeed in spite of or simply because of its honesty. Its success is all in how it's framed, the imagery, the rhyme scheme, the story, the references, the picture painted. This is because in rap music what you say is not enough; you win or lose by how you say it. And Nas says it at least as well as any rapper ever.

One side of me wanted out of this life
Glued traps on the floor for the mice
'Til a nigga saw the light
I wanted money, when I got it, I would spend it
I wanted jewels, but when I heard it, I wouldn't listen
Nas: My Worst Enemy

Sunday, March 12, 2006

3-Gun Tactical

In 1994, Organized Konfusion released their sophomore effort, Stress: The Extinction Agenda. Two years after that, Nas came with It Was Written, followed later in 1996 by 2Pac's Makaveli. Each of these albums featured their respective rappers personifying either a bullet or a gun, the mechanics of the streets. While Young Noble of The Outlawz has noted that Pac was specifically influenced by Nas' work, I'm not aware of any specific revelation by Nas about O.K. (but because of their Queens connection, it might not be a stretch to suggest that there was a conscious relationship between the two). However, this isn't a "who bit who, who influenced who, who referenced who" saga. All three of these songs are notable in their own right.

Stray Bullet
Blessing a beat that's busy but not disjointed, the pulpit-authoritative voice of Pharoahe Monch first booms in. Tracking the troubling path that is a bullet's natural course of action, he, and later Prince Poetry as well, describe the scenes of the projectile's destruction. The bullet inevitably loses focus from its intended target and is later flanked by "family." From the house party to the operating room, captured so precisely, the stray's travel is a trip that only ends one way. The flows of both Pharoahe and Prince Po are rushed, intense, mirroring the very character of a flying bullet. Capitalizing upon the speed of their delivery and the scope of their story, worn-out emotional pleas are avoided; this exercise is ultimately more scientific, cold and calculating, perfect for the subject they're trying to explain.

I Gave You Power
DJ Premier's piano notes and strings strike in an ominous sense, sampled in quick repetition, as if to suggest that the cycle of violence is immediate and unrelenting. Whereas Stray Bullet might have zoomed in close on a measurable trajectory, Nas pulls out, portraying the way of the gun as it treks not just over a Queens blacktops but across the country ("Ohio to Little Rock to Canarsie"). Like some deadly Toy Story scenario, the gun is described not only in use, but in its context, in its world of weapons, as it rests, in company with grenades and techs. From its specific physical description ("my abdomen is the clip") to the digits of a scratched-off serial number, this life is depicted in startling clarity. Nas tells it as a firearm that's not only tool, but, taping into its mental state, it's a conscious being, haunted by its sole purpose, with no real controllable recourse to prevent what shames it so. "Damn."

Me and My Girlfriend
Previously the rappers' weapons of choice have all been presented in the first-person and characterized as masculine. 2Pac flips that, panning left, in a Mickey and Mallory move that plays the gun as a ride-or-die female companion. Also differing from Stray Bullet and I Gave You Power, both of which explicitly state the personification at hand, Pac lets the listener on primarily through creative wordplay ("bought you some shells when you turned twenty-two"). In a heavy voice, contrasting the acoustic guitar, he traces an infatuation grown from adolescence, one of "finger fucking" and "arguments and strays." Overall, his gun is shown as having more bravado and less regret than prior depictions (ironic given its feminine shape). However, the ghostly hollowed hook and sentiments of desperation hint that this lifestyle is born out of ugliness only to reproduce more.

Each of these tracks go beyond their novel concept, successfully executing in various fashions: Organized Konfusion's up-close science, Nas' world at large, and 2Pac's male-female relationship. While I cannot claim to be without bias, I Gave You Power stands the stronger song for me. With a purposeful arc to its storyline and effective emotional resonance, plus a great Primo beat, Nas' tale leaves the most lasting effect.
Beat up and battered, they pull me out
I watch as niggas scattered, making me kill
But what I feel, it never mattered
When I'm empty, I'm quiet
Finding myself fiending to be fired
Nas: I Gave You Power
BONUS: 2Pac: Me and My Girlfriend
BONUS: Organized Konfusion: Stray Bullet

Friday, March 10, 2006

Cell Therapy

Within the past couple days, reporters have found it increasingly difficult to conduct interviews with the ever-hyphy San Francisco Giants heavy-hitter Barry Bonds. The not-so-agile-anymore left fielder has explicitly stated that all questions regarding steroid use are off limits and will most likely result in the termination of any post-game banter. However, it is precisely this issue of performance-enhancing drugs that everyone wants to talk about. Around Bonds, "Balco" has become a dirty word, but t seems like everyone in the public eye, from all stars to rock stars, has had at least one crime in their career always nagging them, on their heels, just a step behind. Chappaquiddick. Ishtar. Nastradamus. Nastradamus is Nas' Balco, except it was more performance-damning than anything else.

Moving past Nastradamus's Bad Idea Jeans-inspired album title and cover, there are maybe only five tracks that I would listen to under my own free will. Of those five, only three would I try and defend. Of those three, only Project Windows and Last Words really stand up all that well. But since that first mentioned, Ron Isley-crooned number is really just a rehashed, polished version of an I Am leftover, Last Words remains the true sole survivor of Nastradamus, and one of Nas' most unique songs.

There's anticipation all over Last Words. The drums sound like the roll of a Judgment Day trek to death. The background singing accelerates the drama, a high-pitched, high-hung choir cry towards the inevitable. And then in between a nicely-weaving chorus, Nas and Nashawn lead with verses that are more eulogies than hype, more embattled than battle. They speak with a final sound to be heard. For Nashawn, it's a constant challenge, chaos without an end, "a twenty four hour song without no hook." For Nas, this cloud, this shroud of loneliness, has only one equal, the prison cell.

While One Love might have featured Nas corresponding with associates behind bars, Last Words has him taking the place of those very bars themselves. Personifying the bare bunk, the tired floor, the storied walls, the closing gate, and reflecting the state of mind that they all cast into despair, Nas creates a lasting impression of a lasting depression that is too common to too many. Some time ago, thanks to a great opportunity from my work, I visited California's Folsom State Prison. While the observations which I have kept with me to this day are too many to list, the idea that Nas hits on a couple times throughout his verse proved true: "I'm a prison cell, six by nine."

The reaction to the size of the cell is undeniably immediate. In a facility of thousands, with years of operation, and legends of history, a few scant feet are truly the most telling. Just literally walking inside, crossing that threshold between a large population of inmates on the outside and in there a post for no more than one or two, is quite a visceral experience. And that's knowing you're not locked behind and will be moving on with the tour shortly; actually facing living that way, waking up to confines that must seem as if they're creeping up on your every day, is, as Nas puts it, to feel as though you're "alive inside a coffin." Often times we only think of space in terms of physical dimensions, but in instances when size transcends metric measurements, psychological ramifications are limitless. The prison cell is one such instance, where space is so constrained, pushing against you, as if someone literally has their hands to your neck, you may fight to make a sound, a last word if you only could.

Face to face with a cage, no matter your age
I can shatter you, turn you into a savage in rage
Change ya life, that's if you get a chance to get out
Cause only you and I know what suffering's about
Nas f/ Nashawn: Last Words
BONUS: The Ohio Players: Good Luck Charm

Monday, March 06, 2006


There are a couple standard reactions to songs by Nas: damn, that was dope; damn, that was dope, why's it have to be unreleased?; damn, that was dope, why's it have to be a featured verse?; damn, that was dope, why's it have to be an unreleased featured verse?; damn, that was dope, why's it have to be an unreleased featured verse with some third-rate rappers? That latter statement should be your reaction to A Few Good Niggas.

As products of cronyism, Boston's Made Men infamously received 4 1/2 mics in The Source for their debut album, most assuredly helped along by personal and business ties to Dave Mays and Ray Benzino, Hip-Hop's own Romulus and Romulus. In the process of booby-trapping the magazine's credibility, the negative press received in reaction to this story also put to a crawl an already lethargic career for the Boston crew. Try as they would to make a follow-up to the so-called Classic Limited Edition, Black Friday played like an self-conscious acne-ridden teenager and never saw the light of day. But of the artifacts left over from this failed project, the Hangmen 3-produced A Few Good Niggas features two dudes dubiously-named Manterror and LO, alongside an authentically 5-mic'd Nas.

Returning the favor for the Hangmen 3 team having previously blessed Stillmatic with its Intro beat, Nas travels QB to Boston. Over eerie strings and horns that are brought to a crescendo and then a wallow, underscored is the importance of a good vocabulary to a great rapper. Now this isn't to suggest that one cannot effectively express themselves monosyllabically or that we all need to praise Canibus for his super-scientific style, but many of the greatest rappers of all-time have demonstrated quite a proficiency with words. And if I can get cliché for a moment, this is because the beat is the canvas, the flow is the brushstroke, the verse is the end image, but it's the strength of the coloring, the words, that often prove most convincing in the final frame; the paints you choose, light or dark, how you contrast, etc., this is the very pulse of your piece. The words you use, the rhymes, the references, your poetic tools, how you articulate your point, etc., this is what moves the crowd, this is what constructs a masterpiece. (Nas = Edward Hopper?) In today's particular portrait, Nas isn't just proving that his vocabulary expands beyond normal Hip-Hop vernacular, but choice selections such as "defiant", "emerge", "pupils", "miserable", even "spooky", while they're not terribly complicated--and shouldn't have to be--they are distinct, dynamic, meaningfully used, and expressive in both sound and thought. The language lets you know it all.

A Few Good Niggas also demonstrates that Nas is in his comfort zone when he is least comfortable. If you look at Nastradamus or The Firm, overwhelmingly jiggy and living-it-up times, he's out of his element. Awkward in this state, bad music was made. But when things move from starlit to dark alley, when the mood is desperate, when Nas raps out of frustration or anger, there's a quality to his music that is undeniable, a resounding realism. On an occasion such as Illmatic, we saw a young man walking neck-and-neck with Hell, where, as life was losing its hold, it was if he could project the necessary strength to endure through words alone. For most artists, complacency doesn't translate into good art, and while pain shouldn't have to be a pre-requisite, the moments of drama, of despair, of doubt, of needing to prove yourself ultimately prove most lasting.

As the blunt hangs low from my defiant lips
Smoke emerge in the shape of halo's, the chronic's lit
My hoes are pornographic, flow's orgasmic
Doe stackin' strict as Joe Jackson--training five kids to blow
Fraction of my mind died years ago
Made Men f/ Nas: A Few Good Niggas

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Level 7

While I like looking a decade back and penning some paragraphs just as long, this blog will also aim to update with new songs. After all, say what you will about Nas, but he's not exactly the hibernating, stagnant type; he may not be on a Pac-level with the amount of time he's spending in a studio, but it seems like, more often than not, he's consistently got a new joint around the corner, solo, featured, freestyle, or otherwise. Today's bit of brand new finds him splitting spitting duties with Nashawn aka Millennium Thug aka Cocaine aka Crack Baby aka rappers have beautifully ig'nant names sometimes aka the other guy on Last Words.

Here, like tag team drug addicts, Nas and Nashawn trade lines back and forth in a brief and energetic style. Nashawn's cleaned up his voice and took a little bit of the whine out, while Nas plays a proper wingman. It's not major, but it's good enough.


[N]Take a picture, cherish it
[N]I'm God Son, heaven sent
[N]This is Level 7, with gangstas and mobsters stepping
[N2]Take a picture, cherish it
[N2]It's Nashawn, my features is heaven sent
[N2]For the bitches, this is Level 7

[N]Number 1, uh, what does it take to have a woman sprung?
[N2]Intelligence leave their mind done
[N]But what about shopping and copping expensive things?
[N2]Take them on yachts, and lobster, rocks and rings
[N]Teddy Pendergrass crashed with a transvestite on his best night
[N]But nigga, not me, on a hot night
[N]I'm with a sister who's thick as shit and she knock me
[N2]You hit her off properly and then let her get on top of me
[N2]Level 2 is elementary stage
[N]The first thing a slave learned in this country's amazing
[N2]They separated the families on every plantation
[N]Fiending for that black pussy, slave masters chase 'em
[N2]Chased the women like they're chicken feet
[N2]Violating, raping 'em, rip their clothes, let their niggas see
[N]And that's the start of the first black pimp's history
[N2]Told his queen if they want to fuck, make 'em a pay a fee


[N]Level 3, God answer me, is there any devil in me?
[N2]Nah, that's thug and this rebel in me
[N]Hood life, ghetto tears falling down my eyes
[N2]Hop out the staircase, kill 'em with a surprise
[N]I'm willing to live and willing to die
[N2]Kill a man for a cause, I'm willing to fry
[N]Why my peoples in this fucked-up predicament?
[N2]We taught the wrong things in the school, learned ignorance
[N]Now my religion is the almighty dollar
[N2]Thereby you making this money, turned the street game to pimp game scholar
[N]Level 4, never make a whore into a housewife--with my charisma
[N2]It take a special kind of dude just to pimp her
[N]Level 5, I learnt the ways of the streets when I was only 9
[N2]Turn nothing into a dime, beer into wine
[N]Wine into champagne, Cris', Level 6
[N2]Only millionaire's shit, buying buildings and real estate
[N2]Me and my gorillas chilling selling homes and weight
[N]Went from savage to humane
[N]Welcome to Level 7, you entered the life of true game

Nashawn f/ Nas: Level 7

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Arms of Nicky Barnes

Silent, silent . . . muuurrdaaa . . .

As one of Nas' most unique songs, everyone should really know Silent Murder. The steel drums, the stabbing strings, the political suspect, they all should be common knowledge. But somehow Columbia Records decided it was best to sneak this It Was Written wonder through the backdoor and sentenced it to relative obscurity for tape decks and Euro ears only. So for the more than 2 million who purchased the '96 Escobar opus, missing was Live Squad's distinct sounds and Nas in the early stages of his socially polemic prose. (As a Live Squad note, according to Cedric Muhammad's account, Silent Murder was recorded in December of 1995, just shortly after Stretch's Queens-side murder.)

Playing the part of a politically anxious frontline reporter, lyrically, Nas echoes his One Love sentiments ("fuck a school lecture, the lies get me vexed") with a similarly distrusting response, "fuck what they teach in class, I'ma reach the mass." This distrust is not an invention for controversy's sake; rather, it is the end result of a long-running campaign of fear and oppression, a reaction to everything from Malcom's killer to Ricky Ross' kilos. It's the politics, it's the pressures, and it's the urgency to strike against it all. Silent Murder isn't a sermon or a confessional, it's a pulse.

In addition, with references scattered throughout, the script of Silent Murder is at times a puzzle of proper nouns. So, in part because these strings of connection can provide a bit of new knowledge, and because RZA did it so well in the Wu-Tang Manual, here are a couple brief explanations of the song's points of interest. If anything, you may learn more about drugs and boxing than you did before--and that's always good.

  • "It's sort of like the conclusion to Color Purple"
    1982 novel by Alice Walker / 1985 film by Steven Spielberg about the often ugly obstacles facing African-American women.

  • "I hit blunts hard like Ray Mercer"
    Nicknamed Merciless, former WBO heavyweight champion and Olympic Gold Medalist.

  • "The violent words of a prince in a palace of Persia"
    Prince of Persia: popular video and computer game of the 80s and 90s.
    Biblical reference made in the book of the prophet Daniel.

  • "A story of wars with Cyprus"
    Island nation that Persia ruled after the Greco-Persian Wars.

  • "They say the arms of Nicky Barnes would be enough to blast"
    Feared New York drug kingpin who partly inspired the fictional character of Nino Brown.

  • "Was it the mind of CIA that bumped off Malik Shabazz?"
    The adopted religious name of Malcolm X, whose death is still mired in much controversy.

  • "To smoke a nigga like a Hughes Brothers motion picture"
    Twin brother directors responsible for the seminal Menace II Society (1993) and Dead Presidents (1995).
This is the Who's Who of a particular New York mindstate, a catalog of names and places, the frame of Nas.

What's the flavor when your neighbors do jake favors?
Lock the real niggas down and letting fake players
Roam around the projects, it's lyrical logic
I dilute, then we can inject the right composite
Nas: Silent Murder