Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Talk Like Sex

After the release of Nas' Street's Disciple, in the spirit of The Source meets Penthouse Forum, loosie.com posted an entertaining write-up entitled "Kings of Crude: Tom Wolfe vs. Nasty Nas." Responding to the rapper's career long reputation for Flyntesque streaks, Loosie argued that while the Literary Review of London had just dubiously honored author Tom Wolfe for outstanding achievements in the field of "Bad Sex in Fiction", Nas was as worthy a candidate as any.

The Literary Review of London recently awarded the '2004 Bad Sex in Fiction' distinction to Tom Wolfe for his novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, the tale of an innocent young lady who goes away to college only to discover her (surprise) inner-freak. That said, we believe the esteemed Literary Review of London has overlooked a very worthy candidate: the ever-classy rapper known as Nas.

Although Nasir Jones dropped the Nasty from his moniker back in the glorious era when Wu Gambinos snatched cream Canadian with Scandinavians, words like "Grotesque", "Gruesome" and "As Wretch-Inducing as Lancing Infected Boils" still apply to his musings on sexuality. Even if his once-formidable lyricism and rhyme schemes have been slowly but steadily deteriorating since his first two albums, the Queensbridge golden child has never lost his uncanny gift for vivid description. This is a valuable trait when it comes to stark 'hood narratives. But in terms of talking like sex, it renders him repugnant.

First and foremost, there's nothing tongue-in-cheek about the thug poet's deep love of analingus. If he kept it relatively understated - "bitches sticking they tongues where the sun don't shine" (I Really Want To Show You) - we would consider him merely raunchy (and things he says would never haunt us). But Escobar gets wild for the night. On Millennium Thug, he took mouth-to-ass chatter to the next plateau. "Your girl wanna lick honey out my crack", he raps, "I fart in your bitch mouth -- she called me psychic 'cause I knew she would like it." Bravo, Nasir! But his rhapsodizing on passing wind-as-sex play was just a gentle prelude to his 2004 pillow talk: "Chelsea used to tell me choke her while I stroke her / stuck a Heineken bottle up in the ass, a real joker/ used to run my bubble bath, tons of laughs, sexy chick / nasty though, she used to try to eat my excrement" (Remember the Times). Without getting into the pause-worthy strangeness of a line spider webbing things stuck up backsides, German porn staples and the NYC neighborhood where men shave each other’s pubic hair over eggs Benedict at brunch, let's linger for a moment on the female prankster he fondly reminisces over. Quite a sense of humor, that young woman had - almost Steve-Oish. Why the God Rakim himself should climb down from his Hennessey billboard and give Nas a dap (if gingerly and rubber-gloved). "I had bad chicks that blow cum bubbles like bubblegum, plus they lick ass", he emphasizes on Nazareth Savage. We get it, homes.

Aside from a couple cheap shots, the overall idea of the article is on point: Nas descriptions of the sexual often hearken back to the pre-Giuliani days of Times Square New York, and not in a good way. Millennium Thug, while it's little more than a freestyle on a Funk Flex mixtape, is inexcusable, though not because it's perverted, but because that verse is real bad. I Really Want To Show You is another verse that shouldn't have been, on a song that wouldn't have been, if it weren't for an album that definitely didn't need to be. However, as it's more than merely melding the lewd and ludicrous, Remember The Times is itself defendable. For starters, the descriptions go further than the occasionally-shallow stereotyped scenes of a Girls, Girls, Girls. Also, whatever "ewww" factor is present seems to be in the spirit of something self-effacing and intentionally over the top, a bit of gross out humor. Nas is going for funny by going for the guts, quite literally. Likewise, what compelled Devin to describe his "thick white snot" or Pharcyde to invite us on a Bizarre Ride II the STD Clinic ("If Magic can admit he got AIDS, fuck it, I got herpes")? Hip-Hop doesn't always have to deal with the straight laced and no nonsense. If a dude has a penchant for rhyming about his anal fetish, well, then let him, so long as it flows well--the song that is. Ewww . . .

Nas: Remember the Times
Nas, Nashawn: Millenium Thug
The Notorious B.I.G. f/ Nas: I Really Want To Show You

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Curse

The history of The Curse (as I know it): In 1999, there existed some mysterious I Am sampler. On this sampler, was a snippet, "The Curse." Unfortunately, when it came time to release I Am, a full-length copy of The Curse did not appear, nor did it appear on any of the many bootleg versions of that ill-fated album. Furthermore, it was never leaked to J-Love, Clue, or online. Seven years later, all we still have is that original less-than-ninety-second sense of where the track was going. However, due to its macabre tone ("the child of Medusa's risen") and lyrical peculiarities ("my mom fought off bats, giant size"), The Curse remains the number one digital wet dream for many a Nas fan.

The history of The Saints (as I know it): In late 2005, featured on both Dirty Harry and Killah Priest mixtapes, thanks to a song entitled The Saints, with a beat from Dirty Harry and an introduction appropriately by Killah Priest, the infamous Curse verse made its way into the spotlight once more. Fans celebrated, cynics asked, "was this just a blend?" Well, last year Nas respit a couple older verses (Live at the Barbeque on the Living Legends mixtape; Blackness redone as We March As Millions), and there are two variations from the original lyrics ("Slipping" becomes "Niggas slipping"; "till MCs get the curse" becomes "till MCs feel it hurts"), so probably not.

What does this all mean? I like The Curse, maybe even a lot, but I'm not going to sign my will over to it; and if its history ended on a Killah Priest mixtape, in its most recent form, I wouldn't be so mad. The first half of that verse, up until about "twisted snake heads you should envision", is quintessential dope. The second half, while containing some stark visuals, drops off in the same way that Ghetto Prisoners, also from a '99 recording time, did: part good, the rest rambling. Also, just like Ghetto Prisoners, the beat and hook are rather poor. But, as I said, it still has inspired unparalleled pins and needles anticipation from Nas' staunchest supporters, and even I want to hear what, if anything, lives beyond the fade out.

My pen's a paintbrush with coloring books of gangstas
Hoes who never changes, tampons stinking
Hot as a bullet that went in Abe Lincoln
The page is the inkaholic, addict for drinking
Nas: The Curse
Killah Priest f/ Nas: The Saints

Friday, May 26, 2006

Don't Get Carried Away

Nas and Busta again, already? Yup.

This time Dr. Dre handles the production and the atmosphere is more raucous.

I'm the enigma
There is none harder, smarter
Martyr, Godfather
My interest: your departure
Pardon, Dre, this beat is a monster -- catchy
Like sleeping under open windows that's drafty
Then waking up, my throat scratchy
That's how I spit it nasty
They short, a few inches north of a dwarf
My flow is Murcielago
Ghost to the narco's
Toast on the waist
The original Pablo
Still a pyramid architect
Mix liquors like a chemist
Killer lyricist
Poetical tyrant
Sneaker store terrorist
Mount Everest
I climbed it
Heat is drawn
No creeping on me
Whenever I'm bent
My mind spray
My .9 spray
It freaks styles like 3000 Andre
To keep piling, keep pushing them drops
Nas, running Hip-Hop
Busta Bust, we don't stop

Busta Rhymes f/ Nas: Don't Get Carried Away

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Alternative Rap

Da Bridge 2001
The alternate verse for Da Bridge 2001 is more standard fare than what actually ended up on the QB's Finest album. There we got a pre-Ether etherous performance, the moment when Jay knew he couldn't let his ROC underlings go at Nas by themselves anymore ("Your hoe, your man, lieutenant, your boss get found"). In its place, more fitting the "I *heart* QB" theme of the original song, Nas tells his side of the 40 Side.

The world's largest projects / Biggest place / Fifty states / My city's great / Show the po' man / A sho' plan / Survival of the fittest / Rivals on the corner shooting / Cases acquitted / Homicidal drug wars / Looting / and Loitering / Trespassing / Just pass it / "Don't smoke in front of my door" / Old ladies nagging / Complaining / Bullets is raining / Go through the window panes an' / The first floor / they need to watch where they're aiming / Babies is walking and talking the slang an' / Their pants hanging / They only two feet / Ready for gangbanging / It's restaurants, pubs, and bodegas / Ballplayers / Thugs and haters / There's bloods and paper / Gangsta honeys / Intelligent ladies with jobs / Soldiers / Resting in graveyards / Prison cases and yards / It's one hood with history / That last forever / Queensbridge Projects / Now we blast together

Street Dreams
Appearing on the Street Dreams single, this bonus verse starts with a couple brags, even one about spaghetti sauce. Then Nas manages to squeeze in some three act gunplay with an ironic twist. Note the way he makes a weed reference ("pandemonium got me puffing Cambodian") and a car reference ("a letter 'L' on my car keys") sound new by injecting these basic boasts with a bit of creativity.

Ill designer fleece / Studded marquise / A letter "L" on my car keys / Thugging hard on Courvoisie / Pastas be Francesco Rinaldi's best / Mobile phones in the arm rest / Ladies be the bombest / I creep tinted / Park the whip / And grab the rented / Seems like I'm changing my locations every minute / Like a plague is on my head, son / I vision red rum / Warrant squads knocking at the same time the Feds come / Pandemonium / Got me puffing Cambodian / Grand openings of barber shops and stock / My jewel rock / Toking pronto / Living like a Pablo / Papi like a poncho / Until the state patrollers / Pull us over / Found the guns and the good / Had a nigga like "Nas had to run through the woods" / Sneaking out the next morning / Looked up to God / guessing all this was a fucking warning / Took my diamonds in for the pawning / Now I'm back on the climbing an' / Moving consignment / Through rain, sleet, whatever climate / So many ups and downs / Shifting / I was twisted minded / Made some time for the hoes / And pussy had me blinded / Big lip bitches / Sucking dick ridiculous / GS's and vest-es / Lingeries looking sensuous / Back on the block bugging / How the fuck I been through this? / Nearly cost my life / But now I can't show a cent from it

Watch Dem Niggas
On the clean version of It Was Written, a different verse shows up for Watch Dem Niggas ("Watch Dem _____"). The story this time revolves around a pretty-face, two-faced female, "watch dem _______." There's also a reference to the Donald Goines (see: Black Girl Lost) four-book series starring Kenyatta, "a black revolutionary, who campaigns against exploitation and evils of inner city life." Part of these lyrics later appeared on a mixtape-only track known as Take It In Blood 2001.

Unplugged shit / A thug gets hit / Sucker for love shit / Seven-carat stone / That's transparent / She loves it / dumb quick / Chasing my dick / Made a bum bitch / Stale fish / Heard she naked in jail flicks / Mamacita / black widow / Turned to be a back seater / Satin pillows / A pimpstress in willow / Cooking my blow and head slow / Ice swelling / Dishonor the grain / I gotta split my wife melon / So I can see the seven seas in my circumference / ??? / Polishing pistols / Like a gunsmith / I'm clever / My mama told me take cheddar / By slugs or drugs / Whatever calculate better / Rock an iron sweater / Under soft leather / Harder like Kenyatta / from the Donald Goines saga / Put forth together / Wanted in prison / By Queens narcotic division / Hundreds is missing / Every time they do a frisking / "All units position" / Blitzing / 'Cause of this chicken / I'm out to be captured / With no restriction

Nas: Da Bridge 2001 (alternate verse)
Nas: Street Dreams (bonus verse)
Nas: Watch Dem Niggas (clean verse)
BONUS: Nas: Take It In Blood 2001

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Boricua Guerrero

I understand only enough Spanish to half-follow 100 Mexicanos Dijeron, and know of Puerto Rico not much outside the realm of 36-24-34. So when I decided it was time to tackle The Profecy, the 1996 track with Nas and Daddy Yankee, I figured I was ready to see what's behind a little something called Reggaeton. Oh, I've heard that sound blaring out of two-doors and four-doors alike the past couple years but, for the most part, kept driving past. Because of this, I got in contact with Richard Cruz for some help. Cruz contributes to the urban Latino publication, Bridgez, and even Vibe Online, where he has interviewed the likes of the aforementioned Daddy Yankee. Engaging in a sort of interview myself, here's what I found out.
RTA: All right, break down the basics. Reggaeton?

RC: Reggaeton. You either love it (as I do) or hate it (as I once did). Either way, thanks to good ol' marketing and promotion, it's emerged as a global phenomenon. And although some speculators say its popularity has reached its peak here in the mainland, it really doesn't need the mainstream support. It can survive on its own, and really should be left to do so. There are millions of 18-24 year old Latinos in the United States to whom the genre appeals. We did our little songs with Ja Rule and G-Unit to get attention, but now it is time to evolve.

RTA: Okay, let's address the hate first.

RC: Back then it was viewed as "fake dancehall", real dirty and not marketed right.

RTA: But you don't seem too thrilled about the Ja Rule / G-Unit concoctions now either?

RC: As a fan of good music, it sucks. As a marketer or A&R, it makes sense.

RTA: You see it as the Ja Rule's of the world trying to ride the Reggaeton wave? Or Reggaeton trying to assimilate?

RC: A combination of both. Nothing wrong with collaborating with Hip-Hop artists outside of the genre, but continuing to do so for shock value demeans the genre and the people it represents.

RTA: So then what's on the love side?

RC: Although content-wise it hasn't changed much, for myself, there is now more so a connect between mainland Puerto Ricans and island Puerto Ricans.

RTA: Did this connection change the music stylistically?

RC: I wouldn't say that the connection changed it stylistically, but vice versa: the new wave of Reggaeton attracted mainland US fan base, as well as those who had encountered Reggaeton before, but shunned it consequently. Tego Calderon was really the one to break down that barrier: he flows with a heavy Hip-Hop influence, but his production is rooted in reggae, bomba y plena, as well as the typical synth-heavy contemporary style. Gradually, the genre also began marketing itself better.

RTA: How so?

RC: Same tactics used by US rappers, producer and artist shoutouts over tracks. From there, the clubs began bringing these acts in for performances, and all together helped establish faces with names. Then when dancehall blew up in 2002, that really opened the doors for Reggaeton.

RTA: With those doors open, one of the most prominent voices seemed to be NORE. How much credit do you give him?

RC: Mr. Hang Hang Sangria? NORE?

RTA: Yeah.

RC: Mr. I Woke Up and Turned Boricua, NORE?

RTA: Him too.

RC: NORE has been quoted as saying he was responsible for the music's newfound popularity, and with Oye Mi Canto being an inescapable hit, that's true, but only partially. You have to remember that Mr. Santiago was far from the first one collaborating with artists like, oh, let's say, Daddy Yankee.

RTA: You mean the Nas collabo?

RC: The Profecy, right. And while that song didn't really have the impact of Oye Mi Canto, Hip-Hop hadn't totally established itself as the tremendous multi-platinum entertainment machine it would soon become.

RTA: Okay, so when I hear The Profecy, I hear Nas and then a minute and a half of something else. What is that something else?

RC: That's Daddy Yankee, then under the moniker of "Winchester Yankee." Beyond the name, from then till now, you should also note a change away from a more distinct, darker lyrical content. It stands a far cry from his modern hits, but interesting nonetheless.

RTA: Is that the most noticeable change?

RC: Not even close. That "something else" you heard, that's speed. It's that rapid fire delivery which was characteristic of most mid-90s Reggaeton. But his flow has changed since then. Most acts have changed really.

RTA: Slowed down?

RC: Significantly. The artists are rapping on the beat as opposed to rambling like many mid-90's artists did. The music is way more accessible now.

RTA: Has that mid-90s flow been completely abandoned?

RC: No, someone like Calle 13, who's tomorrow's next big thing, still utilizes the older style. Just look at his track Cabeceo. There you can probably ID a flow quite similar to Yankee's on The Profecy.

RTA: With all this mind, back to The Profecy for a second, not that Nas pioneered or predicted it, but, as he said, "much love to Puerto Rico, we rolling with you", it seems undeniable that this connection between mainland Hip-Hop and Latinos has only grown in the decade since.

RC: And will only keep growing. With the work we're doing at Bridgez, we're simply looking to give that connection its due coverage.

RTA: Talk about Bridgez.

RC: There are so many Hip-Hop publications out right now, but not a single one that caters directly to Latinos, so that's where we come in. The Latino contribution to Hip-Hop goes unrecognized too often. From Crazy Legs to Tony Touch to Big Pun to a Daddy Yankee, we've been here since the start.

RTA: Then what about your work with the Union of the State Project?

RC: Top Secret.

RTA: Ha.

RC: Well, it's an event in August that is acknowledging the future of New York City Hip-Hop, alongside other lifestyle elements, art and fashion namely.

RTA: Who's that future?

RC: We have four rappers now, but I don't want to disclose any of the performers as of yet . . . they're all well known, signed to majors, and set to make an impact. However, we're creating that platform for them first, helping them get a marketing push, and just bringing together various tastemakers in the city to recognize it first. That's the future.

Daddy Yankee, Nas: The Profecy
BONUS: Calle 13: Cabeceo
BONUS: Daddy Yankee: Machucando
BONUS: Tego Calderon: Cambumbo

*NOTE: Check out the growing Bridgez Magazine, spotlighting the Latino contribution to Hip-Hop, and contact Richard directly at cruz05@mac.com for more info on the Union of the State Project.--Fletch

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Rough Around The Edges

Produced by Hi-Tek, here's Nas joining Busta Rhymes for Rough Around the Edges. This is from the brand new Green Lantern and Kay Slay mixtape, On My New York Shit.

Mossberg on me, up early
Now what's the verdict?
Perspiring, paranoid, peak from curtains
Hearing voices, church lady gave me holy water
Plus some stuff to smear ointments
All over the skin, I hear it over again . . .
Voices blow in the wind
Telling me foes is coming for revenge
Giving me choices, there that voice goes again
No applause, no air time
No need for the floss or "I don't care" rhyme
No studio session needed to air mines
Here lies a dude who did it
I'm a fool at the pulpit
My jewelry dripping
My uzi slipping
I interrupt his eulogy
Excuse me y'all--sipping
Something to soothe me
Talk about my dude, I miss him
Father's a pimp, his mom a Christian
Laying there shivering, what's his religion?
The choir's a liar, songs they singing are repulsive
Preacher man tell it how it was, it went . . .

Rough around the edges
And the edges stick way out . . .

Busta Rhymes f/ Nas: Rough Around the Edges

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Power Switch

Sometimes a guy just wants to hang an effigy. In June of 2002, a year after his feud with Jay-Z broke open on Hot 97's Summer Jam stage, Nas, basking in the glory of an on-air win, wanted to return the favor and literally string up his competition. However, this mock lynching was quickly nixed by the Summer Jam brain trust, so Nas, already feeling middle-childed by the station, took to rival Power 105's airwaves to add a couple new names to his hit list. On that day, more enemies were accrued, radio station ethics were questioned, and New Yorker and Hip-Hop fan alike were buzzing.

NORE, Nelly, Angie Martinez, and Funkmaster Flex, along with the whole Hot 97 "evil empire", were singled out in the 26th rant, but the most lasting beef came after Nas complimented Cam'ron for being a "good lyricist" but claimed his then-most recent album, Come Home With Me, was "wack." This is the moment that launched a million catchphrases, giving the Dipset crew a target and their minions message board fodder ever since. And while Cam's newest release, Killa Season, is being led by press regarding shots aimed at Jay-Z, '02 proved the more successful and infinitely more entertaining on-record feud. For his part, Nas' off-hand comments were backed up on wax with Zone Out and by his Bravehearts buddies in print, but damage control couldn't quell all that talk of kufi-smacking. However, regardless of the amount of tension this interview caused, it's fitting to note that Jay and Nas, together, gave Hot 97 the ultimate burn by making history on stage, at the I Declare War show, sponsored by Power 105.
NAS: I'm letting my people know why I'm not at the Summer Jam. I've been bamboozled, hoodwinked, and the whole nine. I was told and begged to do the Summer Jam. I was begged to come to Hot 97, 'cause I had a hot new record that nobody wanted to support except for the streets. I was told to come there and save Angie Martinez' job. I was told to come there and help the ratings at Hot 97 by Flex and the rest of the crew over there. I'm here to let my people know, all my Hip-Hop community people know that I was dissed this morning by Hot 97, and told what I couldn't do on the show. It's really outrageous and really shows that the wrong people are in power. This Hip-Hop thing comes from the streets. We need our freedom. If y'all ain't gonna fight for your freedom, y'all just gonna be like them sucka artists that just go up to the radio station and kiss A-S-S just to get some airtime, or just suck Flex or suck Clue and 'em, tryna get on their best sides so they can play your record. C'mon, man, take Hip-Hop back into your own hands, man. Throw a party in the streets for free. You know, make it safe, hire the Nation of Islam or somebody to protect it. It's time that we take it back into our hands, because when it's being held in bondage and slavery, it's really a big smack in the face to Hip-Hop and all the people who love it. You gonna tell Nas, me, myself, what I cannot do on a Summer Jam stage when it's been done--the same acts have been done . . .

105: 4 or 5 years in a row.

NAS: 4 or 5 years in a row. And last year it happened to be that the diss was toward me by Jay, and he was all high and mighty. Then I dropped the Ether napalm bomb, and their whole crew was running like roaches. And now you got that station over there crying because he lost, unanimous decision he lost. They played his records like he was dead, like it was a Jay-Z memorial--not saying he was. Don't get me wrong, y'all, I'm not wishing that on any man. And that's my brother, but I'm saying--

105: You just looking for a fair play.

NAS: A fair play. And it's really out of hand, y'all, I'm not going for it. It's not gonna happen. This is a perfect opportunity, you have the alternative to choose any radio station you want to choose. And Power 105 plays everything: old school, new school, if you want to listen--

105: Pimp Juice! Mike Saunders, Pimp Juice!

NAS: Yeah, big up to my man Mike right here who let me come up here. Big up to my man Donnie Ienner, everybody at Columbia Records who's totally behind my back. David Belgrave, everybody. The whole crew.

105: We behind you, Nas.

NAS: And especially right here.

105: The streets is behind you. Because you know what, after this, you probably ain't gonna hear none of your records over there. But it's okay, you know why? We have over 1200 stations, and we gonna hold you down.

NAS: That's love.

105: I know Colb's gonna make a few calls. Mike's gonna make a few more calls. I'm gonna 2-way a few cats. Because we definitely appreciate this. This is what this is all about. This is real Hip-Hop, y'all. This is not synthetic Hip-Hop.

NAS: This is not synthetic. I have my freedom of speech, I'ma say what I want. I'm not worried about a record. I turn on that station, I hear people, rappers on there, talking about their record sales--that's played out--their rims on the truck, I mean what does that have to do with our community? What does that have to do with anything real? Let the rappers talk about it on their records. I don't wanna hear about rims on a truck. I don't want to hear the radio disc jockey making records that's terrible.

105: Woah.

NAS: I wanna hear true Hip-Hop music. Nah, for real, man. This is real.

105: This is true which is why I'm saying "ooh."

NAS: You gotta realize I ate it. They had a Takeover show. And that was the song, ladies and gentlemen, the wack record Jay had trying to come at me. They named a whole show on that station "The Takeover." And I ate that. They didn't worry about my feelings when he made a record dissing my daughter's mother, with derogatory things about women in it.

105: Two records.

NAS: Yeah, Jay just making records about how much he hates women, which really makes me curious. And I'm sitting here, they just support that and support everything he does. But when Nas, God's Son, answers him back, they team up with the evil. See, it's a whole evil empire funded by a bunch of other evil empires, Def Jam one of them, that's giving them money to play all their artists' records. Meanwhile the struggling artists have to try to recreate records that sound like Jay, and they're destroying themselves. If you listen to 90% of the rappers, they're not even creative. Pick up a Stillmatic album. Listen to the song Rewind. Listen to the song What's Goes Around ("comes around").

105: Listen to One Mic.

NAS: Listen to One Mic, my people. Let's get real and be creative. I buy these people's albums, and they ain't talking about nothing. From Cam to everybody. I mean, I like Cam and everything. He's a good lyricist, but the album's wack. Y'all brothers got to start rapping about something that's real.

105: About life, man.

NAS: Nore, my man, Nore, I love you Nore. Step your rap game up. Nelly, you trying to battle KRS-One. Don't follow Nas, man. You can follow Nas if you're going to be creative. God's Son--yo, my next album coming out to school a lot of rappers on how to be a man, because these brothers got--they let Flex and them dictate what's supposed to be hot. That's why I'm here to let y'all know why I'm not at Summer Jam. I ain't no sucka, man. I'm right here, I'm made from Queensbridge.

105: Let's give Nas a round of applause for standing up for the Hip-Hop community.

NAS: This is for the Hip-Hop community. I don't want nobody get it twisted.

105: I'm cosigning everything.

NAS: Yo, word is bond, I don't want nobody get it twisted. Word is bond. This is all about people know that I did not diss my fans there at Hot 97. I was told this morning what I could not do.

105: And that's why you're not closing the show.

NAS: I'm not gonna close the show. They begged me to be the headliner, because Jay is mad at them, he got a fit with them, a little emotional attitude.

105: Of course, 'cause he came over him and made the Power Switch. That's what that was all about.

NAS: He got a fit with them. They begged me not to go to Wendy's station because Wendy was slaughtering Angie Martinez. They was like, "please don't go there, Angie's not about to have a job." Don't confuse me into the Wendy Williams-Angie beef. I make rap records. They got me in the middle of that to boost up their ratings, and then treat me like a crab today, which is not surprising, which is a reason why part of me feels good for not showing up, when they told me what I could not do, and that I could just take it or leave it and walk, and just treated me with total disrespect. So that's why I'm here letting my people know. It's time to be real y'all. Make your own outlets, man. Listen to 105, make mixtapes, listen to Kay Slay. Go get Hip-Hop without dealing with that station over there.

105: There it is, yo. Or you can get yourself a Nas album.

NAS: Get a gun and get real. Get some balls, man. You rappers, get some balls. You rappers are slaves.

Nas: Power 105 interview (2002)
BONUS: Cam'ron: Hate Me Now (diss)
BONUS: Cam'ron: Radio Response
BONUS: Noreaga: Radio Response

Sunday, May 14, 2006


The Hip-Hop mixtape DJ is a little like the Fox News ticker: he takes attention away from the main feature but ideally gives you the latest breaking news. Establishing a relationship with the listener based upon equal parts hate and love, DJ Clue fits this description perfectly. You hate that echoing, overly enthusiastic yell, "Clue! Skane! Duro! Desert Storm! Exclusive! Woo!", but then love those very same exclusives, the fact that he even has the song in the first place, when you know no one else does. Hate him or love him, you have to respect the hustle. It's this hustle that has transformed Clue from just another mixtape DJ into a TV and radio personality, an in demand producer, and a platinum selling artist in his own right.

Nas respects Clue and vice versa. Back when Illmatic rocked out of every ragtop, Clue had those exclusives. When It Was Written was winning, so was Clueminatti. Even when the streets went sour over The Firm flop, the Question Mark Man continued to support him. In fact, during this 96-97 period, many of Nas' most prestigious freestyles blessed Clue's tapes. Naturally, come '98, when it was time for Clue to do his first album on Roc-A-Fella Records, Nas had no problem returning the favor.

Released in mid-December of 1998, The Professional featured Queensfinest, by none other than Queen's finest, Nas Escobar himself. The Self produced song, not to be confused with the self-produced, was an ode to the "borough that Gotti was made in" (John, not Irv, although he's from Queens too). Like AAA for the boom bap crowd, here was Nas giving shine to a couple Queens spots, Jamaica, Far Rockaway, Long Island City, East Elmhurst, and Corona:

Bentley Azure, yo, we on the world tour
We got a show on top of the Coliseum, open doors
Let them Rockaway niggas in
Queensbridge starting' shit
Chill, calm it down we got to blend it in
School of Hard Knocks shirts
Shop at Gertz from the 'Hurst
Yo, Corona play the sideline, yeah it works
When we put it all in the same fam
Yo, round up the Queens click, check out the game plan
Coliseum and Gertz refer to the Coliseum Mall and Gertz Plaza respectively, both located in the Jamaica Avenue area, a sizeable shopping district and around-the-way hang out. The line about School of Hard Knocks shirts is a nod to the designs of Von's Sportswear, over on Northern Boulevard in Corona, incredibly popular at the time. Unfortunately, Nas' precision with his hometown facts got a little shaky in the second verse, "Sunrise movie theaters to chill with our ladies." Sunrise Multiplex Cinemas, although close in proximity to Jamaica by bus, is actually located near Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, which is in Long Island. It's another place to go hang out and shop, however, you don't really want to big up a Long Island locale if the song is supposed to be about Queens.

Clue didn't seem to care about the slip up though, as he invited Nas back for 2001's The Professional 2. And this go 'round, we got a bit more lyrical grit. With tenacity replacing the previous tour guide tone, the change had to do with the fact that, at the time, Nas was on the defensive. The entire Roc-A-Fella crew, particularly the State Property set, had just gone on New York radio station Hot 97, Clue's then-place of employment, and unleashed freestyle after freestyle shooting down the character of not only Nas but of Queensbridge Houses as well. 40 Side's own, obviously a little offended, felt obligated to let them really know about life from Live At The Bridge:

I talk it and live it
Y'all weak dudes should offer forgiveness
'Cause fronting like you ill, get yourself tortured by killers
In New York, I'm the realest, predicted by fortune tellers
Sick with the talking methods, AK's, Berettas
While not quite on the Ether level of "oh my", then again it wasn't a full fledged diss record either. As a matter of fact, the song, like a decent portion of Nas' output post-Nastradamus and pre-Stillmatic, sounds uninspired. But again, with all his exclamations in the background, Clue didn't seem to care. And thankfully so, because with news of The Professional 3 set for sometime soon, Nas is scheduled to be back on the block. Now that he has buried the hatchet with Hovi's home label and signed to the house that Russell built, maybe the third time will be the charm. Maybe Nas will get his facts right, cut the fat away, and give all of us a performance worth shouting about.

DJ Clue f/ Nas: Live from the Bridge
DJ Clue f/ Nas: Queensfinest

*NOTE: Far Rockaway's own Chanson is responsible for the bulk of this entry. He also runs his own blog, via myspace, where everything from the brand new (Timbaland, Clipse) to older rarities (Biggie, Cool J) are covered.--Fletch

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Time is Illmatic PT III

Like Memory Lane, the lyrical content of One Love is the picture of depression. No one's expecting prison correspondence to be full of light-hearted anecdotes, but the very nature of the world Nas describes begs the question of just how much contrast there is in a life caught behind the bars and a life caught by different variations of the same traps on the outside. This is a world where the miracle of birth is opposed by not even knowing you have a seed out there, where a woman carries your son but doesn't want you to see him, where your man gives your enemy your glock and his loyalty, where the sole shared trait amongst family is concurrent cases, where your mother cries and you're the cause of it. And with addicts on every corner and snitches in every precinct, illusion on every boulevard and potential bled dry in every cell, the only change is in the degrees of stress and how hard it's pressed against you: "out in New York, the same shit is going on." Note the way Nas almost casually relays the news of Jerome's niece or little Rob. Destruction is on a first-name basis and occurs in an unsurprising cycle. But there's another angle here too.

As some of you have commented, while Illmatic often focuses on a bleak portrait of life, there is also a theme of hope, of change, towards redemption. This play between the traps and the search for a way beyond them is seen in the Exhale Factor. Several times throughout these famed forty minutes, Nas mentions "inhaling deep": "Inhale deep like the words of my breath" (NY State of Mind); "He inhaled so deep, shut his eyes like he was sleep" (One Love). The idea of a deep breath suggests a level of being unsure, the pre-battle ceremony before heading out into the unknown. It conjures up feelings of nervousness, trepidation, like your lungs are trying to hold onto what otherwise is passing you by. Shorty Doo Wop, from that forgotten park bench, is the essence of this half of the equation. Caught up in a midst of a lot of gravity, where society molds even a laugh into something foul, he epitomizes a life stuck on inhale. Not yet to thirteen, his world moves so fast that the daytime doesn't even hold enough light. His defense mechanism is steel and dubious. His options boil down to Kevlar, his street a burial ground, his platoon deceased or deserters, "tough luck when niggas are struck, families fucked up." The deeper the breath gets, he has to take it all in, the weight continually crushing his young lungs. But as Nas shares a dawn session with him, seeing the kid he used to be, he implores son to exhale, to release the anxiety that's got him short of air and "try to rise up above."

Managing a message of perseverance, as Nas mulls over his crew either locked behind bars or beyond earth, he realizes a change is due. There's escape out of the rut of that NY State of Mind, focused on new days, refreshed and celebrated. Recall the literary archetype of the Hero's Journey. After receiving the Call, down the path into the unknown, that aforementioned level of being unsure, almost immediately challenges await. Passage is only gained by going further into the abstract, towards the Abyss. This is the point of the journey where hardships become giant-sized, where our greatest fears are given their greatest test, face to face with the worst ills imaginable. For each person, these fears may manifest in a different form, but for all, the possibility exists that they may make past tense of life and sever the journey all at once. Illmatic is the narration of this journey. The Call into the wilderness of North America leads way into cell blocks and hard concrete, the ghetto's Abyss, where time seems to only tick for those who don't have a lot left. But in escaping the clutch of every element corrosive, Nas completes the journey: his Transformation, "my physical frame is celebrated 'cause I made it"; his Revelation, "life is parallel to Hell but I must maintain"; his Atonement, "[my son] born in correction, all the wrong shit I did, he'll lead in right direction"; his Return, "so I comes back home, nobody's out but Shorty Doo Wop"; his Gift, Illmatic.

"He's not bragging 'cause he's been through Hell, he's going through Hell and he's expressing it. I feel sorry for that young man that I was at 17 years old. I feel sorry for him, and I also feel happy for him that he made it."--Nas: MTV's Life & Rhymes (2004)

Nas: One Love
BONUS: Nas: One Love (Large Professor remix)
BONUS: The Heath Brothers: Smilin' Billy Suite Part II

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Time Is Illmatic PT II

Memory Lane's beat alone makes sense of its title. Immediately the instrumental strikes with a note of the sentimental, as the Premier loop of "ooh ooh ooh" channels a slow afternoon spent reminiscing on some forgotten park bench. (This is contrasted by the more festive remix also done by Primo.) But what exactly is Nas reminiscing about? "Park jams, my man was shot for his sheep coat." While memories may often deal with the nostalgic and rosy-colored, by relating his own with the death of a friend, Nas takes a darker turn. This underscores the idea that themes of desperation ultimately propel Illmatic into a different lyrical realm. Here you have the satisfaction of the technical attributes of the album, polysyllabic rhymes and verbal imagery, but the manner in which they are applied, to what end, is essential. The double rhymes convey the "trife life", a world of "hype vice" and "knife fights", while the picture painted is of that deceased homie lingering in cold air, "[I] see him drop in my weed smoke." It's as if the block has been weaponized and Nas a witness who can't shake the scene from his head.

However, perhaps the most telling line from Memory Lane finds Nas confessing, "a nickel-plate is my fate, my medicine is the ganja." This is a world where his man's memory serves as a prophecy of his own death, where he too will one day become just a feeling hanging on in the trailing smoke. His sickness is instinct, the street a stretcher, the dosage futile, and an end already decided, even acknowledged. Weed isn't going to stop a bullet, it's only going to try and dull the pain. But that pain is what he remembers with. For Nas, such precise hurt provides focus to his words. And growing up where his best friend, Ill Will, did indeed get shot in an exercise of the random and senseless, the poignant measure of his speech, that despair, is understood only more so.

Illmatic continually details this world, caught between the corner and the coroner, the 40 side labyrinth, where the cement top clenches all that it contacts. Friends disappear in smoke, you barter the next man's life for a wardrobe choice, sacrifice your time for a kilo, a kilo for the next, until the stash runs dry. This isn't cops and robbers, there's "beasts in the blue Chrysler." The landscape of QB is mythic in this sense, turning badges into beasts and the genre into drama. And even when Nas does take a moment to declare a truce, it's not pronounced with any hint of comfort or assuredness, "I guess that means peace." The characters in this one-act personify threat: "the hype vice . . . judges hanging niggas on incorrect bails", snakes, herbs, and dingbats. And when infiltrated, you're not left with much more than some dead homies and empty Heineken bottles, both laying still at your feet.

Nas: Memory Lane
BONUS: Nas: Memory Lane (DJ Premier remix)
BONUS: Reuben Wilson: We're In Love

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Time Is Illmatic

Illmatic remains a watershed mark not just in the career of Nas or Hip-Hop music but also in terms of Hip-Hop criticism. While The Count dealt in a new number each day, The Source's awarding of 5, in this case, mics, sticks out and stands up more than a decade after the '94 LP received the magazine's highest honor. It is this moment that not only forever liked Nas and The Source but set the bar, for all of Hip-Hop, about what "the best" would be. And while both rapper and publication have suffered some rather humiliating public falls from grace, together they helped establish the point of reference from which all that came after, and even before, would be measured against. But what exactly are the origins of this mythic-like admiration and the lore that still follows Illmatic today? Love him or hate him, Nas will go down in the annals of history for two key contributions to rap music: verbal imagery and the polysyllabic rhyme.

Nas would make the job of a sketch artist simple. Blessed with a keen eye trained from the perch of a Project Window, he has always been able to catch just the right detail in his raps. His stories and descriptions are visual works, magnifying the very figure of a gun to the soiled blunt ash on clothes. As the quintessential narrator, boom bap for the visually-inclined, Nas, beyond mere plot details, can also tap into the mental state with language that presents the subconscious in clear 3-D, "I ran like a cheetah with thoughts of an assassin." Here he relays the figure of a jetting street soldier, while, as well, describing what's going on beneath the surface. While such has been accomplished to varying degrees throughout Nas' career, Illmatic was its peak.

The polysyllabic rhyme was also a staple of Illmatic. Although not the inventor by far, in the early to mid 90's, Nas brought the gospel to many a New York rapper: "there's no days - for broke days / we sell it - smoke pays / while all the old folks pray." The way he performed, people became very conscious of this lyrical strategy and followed in flock. Cite an Eminem or a Big Pun, the eventual heavyweights all took notice. Then you had lesser known MCs, Royal Flush or AK Skills, for instance, who too began to pattern their tongue after this smooth criminal on beat breaks. You listen to enough mid 90's Hip-Hop, and you'll hear it often. (Moreover, a non-lyrical principle which Illmatic helped solidify was the mercenary approach to production.)

However, beyond double rhymes and Mac-10's in the grass, we should consider something a little less tangible brought to the table: Nas' emotional tone throughout Illmatic. The majority of Illmatic's greatness springs from songs where the mood is depressed and destitute. Beyond the acknowledged technical and production attributes of the album, its real success is inspired by this downtrodden state of mind. It is this emotional tone which propels Illmatic.

"I made [Illmatic] at 17, 18 years old, and I listen to it and it makes me say, 'wow this is what a young man was going through in this society. He's not bragging about carrying a gun. He's not bragging about selling crack. He's not bragging 'cause he's been through Hell, he's going through Hell and he's expressing it.'"--Nas: MTV's Life & Rhymes (2004)

This is part one of a three part look at Illmatic, with the next entries to specifically focus on Memory Lane and One Love, two of the songs that epitomize the aforementioned themes of desperation that helped propel Illmatic to legend.

Nas: Illmatic Promotional Video
BONUS: AK Skills: Nights of Fear
BONUS: Royal Flush: Movin' On Your Weak Productions

*NOTE: Thanks be to k_orr.--Fletch

Friday, May 05, 2006


Genesis really set the tone in '94. Not only did the Wild Style intro instantly put Illmatic in the context of classic New York Hip-Hop, but, with Live at the Barbeque in the background (check how the sample cuts off right before the infamous "snuffin' Jesus" line) and instructions to pull down the shade and take the Hennessy, it also established a style all its own: b-boy stance meets Phillies clutch. When it came time to get It Was Written going, Nas changed it all up. While a million things can be said about what you did or didn't like from IWW, one of the most overlooked pieces of that album was its intro.

It Was Written intro: Top 10 Moments
(by order of appearance)

01.A Change Is Gonna Come
These are perhaps my favorite strings from popular music. Thematically, the idea of "a change", which using Sam Cooke's masterwork implies, appropriately sets up the little two-sided story we're going to see, so, in that sense, it's part of a well laid out plan. It also just sounds good too.

The early organ, met with the crack of a whip and the wail of a saxophone, gives the track a surreal feel. Then the harmonica wane and slight rustle of chains add another interesting musical touch. It's unique all around.

The protagonists referenced on Genesis were Grand Wizard and Mayo. For It Was Written, the leads named are fellow slaves Jimmy Lee and Harriet. And I guess that makes Bandit a crab ass rapper.

04.Get the hounds, we gonna have ourselves a hanging tonight!
Here's something I wondered in the midst of writing this. Nas gets in a fight with presumably an overseer type, and it seems like his resistance might be working. The call for the dogs suggests that he's escaped, with the allusion to a Harriet (Tubman) doing the same, but the assured tone of the overseer, that there will be a hanging tonight, indicates that maybe this resistance will ultimately be put down. One reading would say that he, Nas, the black man, did escape and over time has changed from slave to rap star (hold your irony, please), while a more pessimistic, and maybe then historically accurate, interpretation would argue that on the second-half of the track Nas is instead rising out of the ashes of his ancestor's specific lynching from that night.

05.The Sly, the Slick, and the Wicked
On Nas' first three solo albums, you could easily ask of all the intro tracks, why didn't he rap over those beats? With its strong Lost Generation sample, you could ask that especially here. The Sly, the Slick, and the Wicked was a hit for the short-lived Chicago group back in 1970, but with amplified drums and more top-shelf strings, it still sounds comfortable in '96. Why the hell didn't he rap over this beat?

06.The OG Pause
"Back up in this nigga--the right way, though." Does this predate "no homo"?

07.Regarding the Benjamins
"Son, these niggas look faker than the new hundred dollars. "

08.In the Quran it says Nas, the men. Nisa's the woman
It's take a healthy sized dose of gall to essentially justify your album and even career as though they were the destiny of the gods, or, in this setting, Allah. Referencing the Quran's Sura numbers 4 (An-Nisa, the women) and 114 (An-Nas, the men), Nas does just that though. Coincidentally, An-Nas is the final Sura and asks God for "refuge" (escape) from the evils of the earth.

09.Conceptually Speaking
Call it brave, call it genius, call it bizarre, call it a non-sequitur, whatever, but you have to applaud the very creativity and guts behind starting off your all-important sophomore LP, the one you really need to hit the commercial jackpot this time, with a slave narrative skit. We moved from the old school Subway Theme on Illmatic to the oddity of "yee-hah's and whips cracking in background." And it still went double plat.

10.The Message
An introduction is only as good as what it introduces. In that case, the It Was Written intro is particularly great.

Nas: It Was Written intro
BONUS: The Lost Generation: The Sly, the Slick, and the Wicked
BONUS: Sam Cooke: A Change is Gonna Come

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Roundup PT II

This time again in Nas-related news:

  • God's Son and the God MC recently sat down for MTV cameras. That right there should be cause for celebration, but that the two exchanged numbers and apparently seem determined on collabing in the future is the real excitement. ( I guess we're not counting Streets of New York.) Nas was his old distanced self in the interview, but Rakim not so much. Ra has every reason to play the bitter vet card, but he just continually exudes this positive, gracious tone. It's rather refreshing. MTV Overdrive Video / Interview Transcript
  • In the spirit of all things lists, MTV has compiled a 2006 top ten of "The Greatest MCs of All Time." Nas was ranked in the five spot and co-signed by Slick Rick, "he had raw talent. He was a child when he came out; now he's a married man. He's showing the streets can grow." Nas even supplied his own couple thoughts on "the greats."
  • Nas is at his most political during interviews, that is to say he manages real well to avoid giving concrete answers. Cipha Sounds found this much out in a piece from a couple weeks back on MTV. When asked about the title of his next album, he can't say. When asked about producers on his next album, "whoever got heat." When asked if he'd give the world a preview of his next album, "nah." Youtube link (Props to Nabs)
  • Like screaming DJs with receding hairlines? Good, because DJ Clue reportedly has the third installment of his Professional series set for sometime this spring. Reprising his role from Queensfinest and Live from the Bridge, Nas, amongst Fabolous, Game, and others, will guest.
  • Reasons to psych yourself up for Christina Aguilera's next album: she's not Jennifer Lopez, DJ Premier's handling a bulk of the production, and Nas will be making an appearance. As a sequel to 2002's Dirrty, Still Dirrty is to have Nas subbing in for Redman. Premier notes that the beat has changed however, "it's more jazz-sampled with these horn blasts."
  • Alleged long-time friends Scott Storch and Nas are apparently in the process of making studio magic. Please hold your hate until you at least hear the title of the song.
  • Flash, of OHHLA.com, contacted me, and, as per a previous entry, now the lyrics to the second verse from the Just A Moment (remix) have been changed.
  • Traffic here has been on a generally steady climb thanks to recent referrals from Better Than Yours, Oh Word, and Souled On. Check 'em out, folks, they're good people.
I burnt the game, learnt you lames a new lesson
Your crew's soft man, y'all need some new weapons
The P's breed warriors in skullies and Timbies
Around micks, spics, niggas, and guineas
Alicia Keys f/Nas, Rakim: Streets of New York