Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The N

The rush of new music isn't even taking Halloween off. Because it's produced by Nas' go-to-man Salaam Remi and is leaking as the 19th of December slowly creeps up, you'd figure this was an album cut in the making. However, given the feel of the hook especially, plus the fact the outro ad-libs don't sound all that LP-ready, this could merely be a mixtape / DJ song. Maybe not.

It's the late night, Greasy Spoon patron
Poolhall making - big bets
Midsection got the 8 in
Dior, Christian pimping
Got that penal system diction
Riffing, you don't wanna be snitching
Spit a few at a traitor with that new AR
Try to kill me, I'm a leader, that's coup d'etat
Streetsweepers in that Coupe all black
Bitches want my chipped tooth back
Steel MAC so my kufi never gets smacked
Squeeze a fifth with a grip
As I dip from the paparazzi
Still playing numbers, you can't stop me
Still wearing bundles and spark weed
If I ever say, Queens, get 'em, you know they got me
Success, scandal, bone deep personal beef
So lead by example or get trampled
Since Hip-Hop Is Dead, this is the N
Congratulations in order 'cause we did it again

Don't hate me now, congratulate me now
I'm still getting it and don't even love the dough
Don't hate me now, congratulate me now
I'm still ripping, and I don't even love the hoes
Still getting it and don't even love the dough
Still gripping it, you know that I tug the fo'
Stay splifted 'cause you know that I love the dro

The style is taboo, the chain's offensive
Brain on airplanes, Gucci frames are vintage
The two-TEC don in Yukon's and Benzes
Chicks who suck other chicks tits like infants
Apprentice but not Trump
I'm the nigga with glocks and pumps
That you don't see much, sucka free from chumps
Homes with cobblestones in front of 'em
Got guns in cummerbunds, so understand you under son
Don't make me have you running from a hundred guns
Don't make me grab your only son, I'm coming from
A place Tanqueray and weed's the only escape
From phonies who hate when you rolling with papes
That's why the god party with Juicy models
They mob me, Denali, Charlie Luciano - hardly
Have to tell y'all, I kill y'all
For spitting songs that involve me, nigga
Original verbal assassin, have to carve me a nigga

Nas: The N

Monday, October 30, 2006

Hip-Hop Is Dead

Everyone wanted to talk about the snippet so bad. I said wait until we have the full length. Well, we now have the full length. Have at it.

Production by Will.I.Am

Hip-Hop Is Dead . . . . December 19th.

If Hip-Hop should die before I wake, I put an extended clip inside of my AK
Roll to every station, murder the DJ - roll to every station, murder the DJ

Niggas smoke, laugh, party, and die in the same corner
Get cash, live fast, body they man's momma
Rich ass niggas is riding with three llamas
Revenge in their eyes, Hennessy and the ganja
Word to the wise, with villain state of minds
Grinding, hitting Brazilian dimes from behind
Grinding, hitting Brazilian dimes from behind
Grinding, hitting Brazilian dimes from behind
Whenever, if ever, I roll up, it's sewn up
Any ghetto will tell ya, Nas help grow us up
My face once graced promotional Sony trucks
Hundred million in billing, I help blow 'em up
Gave my nigga my right, I could have gave left
So like my girl Foxy, a nigga went Def
So nigga, who's your top ten?
Is it MC Shan? Is it MC Ren?

The bigger the cap the bigger the peelin'
Come through something ill missing a ceiling
What influenced my raps? Stick-ups and killings
Kidnappings, project buildings, drug dealings
Criticize that? Why's that? 'Cause Nas rap
Is compared to legitimized crap
'Cause we love to talk on ass we getting
Most intellectuals will only half listen
So you can't blame jazz musicians
Or David Stern with his NBA fashion issues
Oh, I think they like me - in my white tee
You can't ice me, we here for life, b
On my second marriage, Hip-Hop's my first wifey
And for that we not taking it lightly
If Hip-Hop should die, we die together
Bodies in the morgue lie together
All together now . . .

Everybody sound the same
Commercialized the game
Reminiscing when it wasn't all business
It forgot where it started
So we all gather here for the dearly departed
Hip-Hopper since a toddler
One homeboy became a man and then a mobster
If it dies, let me get my last swig of vodka
RIP - we'll donate your lungs to a Rasta
Went from turntables to MP3's
From Beat Street to commercials on Mickey D's
From gold cables to Jacob's
From plain facials to Botox and facelifts
I'm looking over my shoulder
It's about eighty niggas from my hood that showed up
And they came to show love
Sold out concert and the doors'll close shut

Nas: Hip-Hop Is Dead

Saturday, October 28, 2006

New York Shit (remix)

New York's shine in the spotlight has been stolen by the likes of Houston and Atlanta in recent years. While everyone from rappers to message board posters has an opinion as to why this happened and how it can be reversed, it's safe to say any New York comeback isn't going to spring from a song specifically about a New York comeback. That's way too self-serving, predictable, and corny even; in fact, it proves the point that New Yorkers are, at times, like modern day geocentrists, so sure that everything revolves around them, despite all the evidence to prove the opposite. This much Busta Rhymes found out when his New York Shit single went belly-up earlier this year.

Well, now too many months later, trying to resurrect his own buzz, Busta has returned with a New York Shit remix, four actually: a New York remix, a Midwest remix, a Dirty South remix, and a West coast remix. Scratch your head on that for a second. However, at the very least, the NY rendition of NYS brings us a new Nas verse.

From the Kay Slay mixtape Myspace Maniac.

Radiant, conscience clear
I'm about to have a monstrous year
Livest spots, e'ry night we deep
Ladies get you harder than termite teeth
Check me, Broadway 42nd Street
Legendary, 3 Card Molly
Nasir drives a Harley
Now, wrist is froze
Like toes on the body in the morgue
They were all put there by the squad
FYI, for ya info, insects splatted on the bike window
Had an innuendo, take a look around, what you found?
Crème de la Crème from everything I be in
Like Masta Ace, tell me the world's a faster place
High school students will slash your face
Look here, I'm the god on the mic on the track
Like Arthur Ashe on the tennis rack'
Tell the DJ, spin it back

Busta Rhymes f/ Papoose, MOP, Nas & Labba: New York Shit (remix)

Why You Hate The Game

Since the dialup head can hardly stay bipartisan these days, any rapper that has beef with another rapper is typically going to cause "fans" to sway their support dramatically to one side or another. Take The Game for example. He's feuded with perennial New York underdog Joe Budden, The Bay's own Yukmouth, ROC underlings like Memphis Bleek and the Young Gunz, G-Unit and extended family, and even more recently with Ras Kass. Because of this, plus his rather fast multi-platinum rise to fame, he's become an ever increasing target of fickleness and loathing. Throw in the fact that his lyrics, admittedly, have a tendency to read like a Hip-Hop roll sheet, and there's even more inspiration for hate. However, if anything, that namedropping says to me, although in an incessant sort of way, that The Game is a fan of Hip-Hop, something that's more endearing than another rapper commenting, "I only listen to Coldplay."

The Game's respect for the legends of the genre has been clear since day one. From outright refuting that he would ever diss someone with Jay-Z's résumé to acknowledging the often-ignored likes of Eazy-E and Ice Cube, Game knows who came before him and what they meant. Because of this, it is fitting that one of the most anticipated songs from his highly anticipated new album, Doctor's Advocate, does indeed feature a certifiable legend, Nas. And they're even doing it old school style, like back when extra-long tracks were the norm. Just Blaze on the beat.

The streets made me Illmatic
For that, I'm still at it

Felon -- Vice behind me on the intersection
Sex and drugs, my anthology on perfection
Dress superb, admired by conspirers
Who wanna try me but ain't high enough
To 4-5 me up
Child of the 80's
Y'all niggas is lazy
Complain about labor pains
Nigga, show me the baby
And my nigga Game, light another L, pass the bottle
Pro-black, I don't pick cotton out of Aspirin bottle
Yeah, I learnt my lessons and heard y'all snitching
Witnessing you rocking with Narcs confirmed my suspicion
Green fatigues on, my niggas I bleed for 'em
I could show 'em the water but can't make 'em drink it
And I could show them my fortunes by can't force 'em to think rich
And still I don't abort 'em when and if they sink quick
Ignore the ignorance, I rep the brilliance of Queensbridge
And pray the Feds let Murder Inc live

The Game f/ Nas & Marsha of Floetry: Why You Hate The Game

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Thugz Mansion

Because their relationship was less collaborative and more so based on animosity, when Nas and a 2Pac, via a posthumously released verse, linked up for 2002's Thugz Mansion, many were taken aback. While the song may have turned out well, it still remained mired in a decent bit of confusion and controversy. Some saw it as Nas blatantly going against his own philosophy of "let the late great veteran live", and even more pegged it as a situation where a rapper, who had had beef with Pac while he was alive, was now trying to eat off his legacy and pretend that things had always been cool. Well, it's not that simple.

2Pac as some vigilant anti-East Coast menace was an image created, blown up, and exploited by a record label and the media in whole. In fact, born in Brooklyn and once even known as MC New York, Pac routinely paid praise to such steady Rotten Apple stalwarts as Wu-Tang and the Boot Camp Clik. At the same time, it's also true that he didn't extend kind words to everyone, as the likes of Biggie, Lil Kim, Mobb Deep, The Fugees, Jay-Z, etc. all were targets at one time or another, Nas included.

Whatever relationship existed between Nas and 2Pac, it really began on positive terms, those of mutual respect. For instance, 2Pac was said to have listened to Illmatic intently and later was inspired to pen his own gun-personification tale after hearing I Gave You Power. Likewise, Nas has always maintained that he was a fan of Pac's ever since the Digital Underground days. However, if a choice cut from It Was Written hit Pac the right way, a couple others didn't go over quite as smoothly. For starters, Nas' Street Dreams employed the very same Linda Clifford sample that just months prior had served as the production base for the title track to All Eyez On Me. Nevertheless, any beef stemming from this would merely be a prelude, as the real drama soon kicked off over similarities between Nas' very lyrics and Pac's own life.

The first full song on It Was Written, The Message, found Nas caught up in an exchange of bullets, himself hit and then firing back, before a visit to the hospital later that night. While most would have listened and taken Nas' verse as just an early entry into his soon-to-be extensive storytelling collection, such as in the tradition of Slick Rick and Kool G Rap, 2Pac believed Nas was mimicking his own infamous five-shot escapade at Quad Studios in New York 1994. Subsequently, Pac recorded Against All Odds, a searing free-for-all diss track, "This little nigga named Nas thinks he live like me / Talking 'bout how he left the hospital took five like me / You living fantasies, nigga . . . It Was Written / Hey Nas, your whole damn style is bitten / You heard my melody, read about my life in the papers / All my run-ins with authorities, felonious capers . . . Since you lie, you die." Passed around extensively, Against All Odds quickly became 2Pac's definitive post-Hit Em Up "ride on our enemies" anthem.

Much later, Nas was questioned over any similarities between The Message and the actual Quad Studios episode, to which he replied that he was merely putting the real life experience of a friend of his into a first-person rhyme, "I'm talking about altercations that happen in my neighborhood. Where a friend of mine was shot and came out of the hospital the next night, and I talk about it as if it was me." But if few people know this side of the story, just about the same number know that Nas in fact had responded, on record, to the above-mentioned Against All Odds diss.

Released on a DJ Clue mixtape, though his appearance on the Welcome to the Firm freestyle was limited to just a single line, Nas made sure it was a powerful one, "Black Pirelli's rolling over this Makaveli." By referencing a brand of high-grade racing tires and the persona behind 2Pac's 7 Day Theory album, Nas' intent was clear. Even still, there remains some discrepancy over when this response was first recorded and whether or not it leaked to the Clue mixtape with Nas' permission at all. It is, however, not the only piece in this battle shrouded in uncertainty.

Just a little over a week before his death, 2Pac, with his Outlawz crew nearby, made it to New York for the September 4th, 1996 MTV Video Music Awards. And despite everything that might have been captured on camera, perhaps the most interesting incident took place far off screen. The basic facts are that Nas and Pac somehow meet up at Central Park, but as to what was said, and in what manner, there are competing stories. First, as you might recall, this is the scene described on We Will Survive, where Nas gives his version of the night:

We had words 'cause the best supposed to clash at the top
But kept it brotherly, when we seen each other and stopped
In NYC, at MTV, people watched
We was both deep, after you left, I got no sleep
In a 2002 interview with XXL, Nas even went so far as to say that he and Pac were supposed to record for the One Nation album, a project where the Death Row rapper was reaching out to his East Coast brethren in a show of unity. However, disagreeing with this "brotherly" depiction, Snoop Dogg, who has put himself as well in the midst of this New York night, described it differently, "Pac checked [Nas], punked him in Central Park, I mean straight punked him." It might be good to take this account with some skepticism though, because while Nas' own story has varied at times, Snoop Dogg's version comes off as less reliable. Thankfully, there's yet another, more credible eyewitness report, this time from some of the Outlawz themselves.

On their 2004 DVD release Worldwide (youtube link), principal Outlawz members Young Noble and Napoleon spoke on the Central Park saga. For his part, Young Noble confirmed the meeting, "two days before [2Pac] got shot, we was in New York. That's when we seen Nas. Them niggas chopped it up, squashed that shit they had." Then Napoleon mentioned that Pac had planned to remove all references to Nas from the Makaveli album. Unfortunately, no change was ever made, for just two days after the MTV awards, 2Pac's black BMW, near the intersection of Koval Lane, in Las Vegas, Nevada, was ambushed by an array of bullets. A week later, his wounds would prove fateful.

The reason to dredge over any of this is to answer the question if Thugz Mansion was a legitimate move to make or not. For those who believe 2Pac went to his grave with nothing but ill will aimed towards Nas, it was essentially a coward's play by the QB MC, a mere PR stunt. For those who would say Nas and Pac had settled their differences and planned to work together in the near future, it was a way to finally do what death had prevented the pair from accomplishing in the first place.

Nas et al: Welcome to the Firm
Nas: Interview on 2Pac's Death
Nas: We Will Survive
Nas f/ 2Pac: Thugz Mansion
BONUS: 2Pac: Against All Odds

Monday, October 23, 2006


There are three main points to make about the Nas-AZ track Serious.

1. The Lost Tapes Syndrome
Before Street's Disciple ever hit stores, it was shaping up to be the album of the year. While this was due in part to the standard protocol of "Pre-Nas Album Hype", it was also a reflection of the quality of songs that had already been leaked to mixtapes and online. Five songs specifically, Disciple, Good Morning, Serious, Thief's Theme, and You Know My Style, were cause for real anticipation, "is Nas back?" Well, as most hype usually does, by the time the 2LP hit stores, it lost some steam. Additionally, for those who had been privy to the five aforementioned tracks, it was even more of a letdown: the beat on Disciple was downgraded, Good Morning and Serious were both nowhere to be found, and Thief's Theme and You Know My Style were relegated to the role of bonus tracks. The absence of Serious, in particular, proved most disappointing.

2. Brooklyn-Queens Connection
On Serious, the pairing of Nas and AZ reunited a legendary duo ten years past their first collaboration (Life's A Bitch) and two years since their latest turn (The Essence). Showing no rust at all, the chemistry between the two is especially noticeable in the handoff from AZ's second verse, "we back and we come to conquer . . ." to Nas', "the last of the fuckin' genre." Elsewhere, AZ plays his unique pronunciation to good effect, "the God of the Serengeti / I charge with a large machete / And carve up ya starvin' belly." For his part, Nas' greatest strength on display is his delivery. Here he injects a high dosage of adrenaline into his flow, providing real energy that could have greatly benefited the overall Street's Disciple album. As a final note, because I know it's a tendency, as I have said before, rap music is not a game of Clue, i.e., someone doesn't always have to have murdered someone else. When there are two rappers on a track and both MC's come off, hit repeat and just let it ride. Serious is one such case.

3. Last Bongo in Belgium
As exciting as the performances of Nas and AZ are, the credit for Serious is every bit due to Salaam Remi and the Incredible Bongo Band. Once more sampling the classic Bongo Rock album, as he had previously done for Made You Look and Thief's Theme, Remi's old-school concoction is equal parts irresistible and unrelenting. Immediately, the horns are introduced, as if a signal to prepare for the pandemonium ahead. Next the percussion dives in head first, literally sprinting across the track. Like so many speed freaks charged from a score, it moves, twitching, fritzing, anxious, pulsing, pounding, a head nod that hardly lets up, a constant surge of acceleration. Then, to keep the drug analogy going, Serious too is a rather quick high, topping off at just over two minutes, but worth every second of its rush. Unfortunately, when it didn't show up on Street's Disciple come release day, that was any buzz bottoming out at once. And the reason for its absence? Coincidentally enough, the IBB sample couldn't be cleared in time.

Regardless of where it did or did not end up, Serious is Hip-Hop as it exists beyond the reach of pop music trends and watered-down production, or, as Nas himself puts it, "never neo-soul . . . not Joss Stone, Hives, or Coldplay. . . . Anthony Cruz, Nasir Jones shit, very serious."

Nas f/ AZ: Serious
BONUS: Incredible Bongo Band: Last Bongo in Belgium

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Get Dis Money

The introduction to the world of Illmatic took place behind window shades, where a money count was the principal focus. When a project warrior later morphed into this all-out Escobar figure, the gusto grew and the dollars chased in the dream expanded just as well. Sensing a backlash, Nas' '99 anthem was a Cristal-soaked strike at the growing number of critics lining up against the rapper, "don't hate me, hate the money I see." In many ways, this quest for cash is what drove the early QB narrative, and, when Nas actually achieved that status, started counting his stash with the shades up and in the whole world's face, it's what moved many away.

To say the least, money has starred as the subject of many of his Nas' rhymes. He's not the exception however, because, for many rappers, especially during those jiggy times of the late 90's, the paper chase has long since been a heavy presence. At a certain point, popular music all over really got touched, as even R&B singers started serenading their stacks of green. Perhaps this money-minded mentality was nowhere more evident than on R. Kelly's 1998 double-opus R., where a handful of big-name MC's and the Chicago singer cooked up such splendid titles as "Spendin' Money'", "Dollar Bill", "Only The Loot Can Make Me Happy", and "Money Makes The World Go Round." Nas was one of those big-name MC's invited along, and the collaboration proved to be a match made in commerce heaven.

Beyond being two of the biggest acts of past decade, R. Kelly and Nas share a couple other points: both debuted in the early 90's, both were signed under the Sony BMG umbrella at one point, and both made countless records with the hitmaker team of The Trackmasters. In fact, it was the Trackmasters remix to Nas' Street Dreams, which they had produced in the first place, that initially linked QB with Chitown. While the Choosy Lover sample and R&B-led hook only continued to piss off purists disgruntled with Nas' changing beats, the duo kept on. Two years later, the aforementioned 2LP R. was released, with Nas close by and financial means at the heart of the matter.

The first of '98's two collaborations came in the form of Money Makes The World Go Round. With a simple piano track and background vocals moving throughout, the Trackmasters production sets a rather calm tone. Just off the title, most would assume the song nothing more than a big brash celebration of excess. However, it really frames money as this thing we all chase after, but, when you have it, you find it only goes so far. Nas, no doubt looking at life with a new perspective in the wake of It Was Written's good fortune, could surely attest to the ups and downs of the dollar. In this way, he's able to speak to both sides of what money means, "When you poor, it's like life ain't even worth living / But when you rich, is every fat ass worth hittin'?" This last question is asked from a pessimistic, almost disappointed position, like the man who spent his whole life on a hustle, trying to make it large, gets there, and can't enjoy what he's got, for any number of reasons. Yet, later in the verse, Nas shows he's still caught up in the illusion, "it's V-12's, honeys on the cell." This presents a contrast, where, on one hand, he knows everything that's big isn't always worth its height, but he can't quite shed the materialism either; it's really a very human condition, where you're often stuck between two sides and can't decide which to follow ("rap about big paper or the black man plight?").

Nas and R. Kelly worked together once more, for the remix to Did You Ever Think. Again, Poke and Tone were behind the boards, with the subject of money hoisted back to center stage, "Did you ever think that you would be this rich? / Did you ever think that you would have these hits?" Taken from the track's hook, these lines might be mistaken for pure bragging. And while the song is more celebratory than not, it's not necessarily the money they're celebrating; instead, it's coming from poverty to being paid that's reason to rejoice. Nas' verse does its job to explain this much:

We ghetto, never thought we'd ever reach this level
My people behind metal - the streets coulda had us
But now we live lavish
At the same time, though we can talk about Nas catering to both sides of the coin, his own rhymes, R. Kelly's singing, and the overall production come off generic at points. There's a certain chemistry the pair share, more so than any of the other rappers featured throughout the double album even, but it's not like this is all-time classic material at hand. Moreover, eight years later, though still listenable, both Money Makes and Did You Ever Think smack of a 1998 sound. You can also hear the faint ring of a cash register in the back.

R. Kelly f/ Nas: Did You Ever Think (remix)
R. Kelly f/ Nas: Money Makes The World Go Round

*NOTE: Primary contributions to this entry by Eli Jabbe aka Ill E. Thanks.--Fletch

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hip-Hop Honors

I'm not sure the exact point when you could begin to mention Nas' name in company with some of Hip-Hop's elite old-school legends and have it not be blasphemy. Maybe it was Illmatic that crystallized his clout, maybe it was soaring to multi-platinum heights with It Was Written, maybe it was earning his battle stripes with Ether, maybe it was proving he could last longer than a couple albums and some trends, maybe it was resurrecting the breakbeat aesthetic on Made You Look, or maybe it was showing that Hip-Hop could grow with relative grace into its and his third decade. Then again, maybe it's really a combination of all these achievements. However, you'd also have to factor in that Nas has never shied away from a) giving respect to his elders b) working with these very same MC's. In the process, these collaborations have helped older artists receive some attention from a newer set of fans, but also bolstered Nas' status from the p.o.v. of these very same artists, to the point that you could consider him in their class without causing too much fallout. Three such acts Nas has worked with are Run-D.M.C., Scarface, and Slick Rick.

Run-D.M.C. f/ Nas, Prodigy: Queens Day
As much as any other one location, Queens, New York is responsible for some of the most important music and moments in Hip-Hop's history. In particular, Run-D.M.C. can lay claim to a bulk of these moments. Because of this, when Nas came through with '94's Illmatic, though the projects of QB were given his specific attention, on a larger scale, he was also carrying on the tradition that Run-D.M.C., amongst others, had helped etch out. Fittingly, when the Hollis trio released their first LP since before Illmatic, 2001's Crown Royal, Nas came along to represent for the second generation of Queens Hip-Hop. Over a Primoesque beat, he appropriately tripped back to memory lane with a verse that honored those days of the 80's when the likes of Run-D.M.C. ruled:

A lot of ghost towns and memories, bad blood and enemies
So many died with the same gangsta pride that entered me
Peace to them old timers, they who taught us
How to stand strong and pass it on to the sons and daughters
Scarface f/ Nas: In Between Us
You may be wondering why Scarface is included here in the same company as Rev. Run and 'em, from a chronological perspective at least. However, the first Geto Boys album did come out in '88, although, admittedly, that may not be strict "old school" by a purist's standards; regardless, I've always grouped him in with the N.W.A. and Kool G Rap league of Hip-Hop, that Reagan era, menacing, unrelenting, and ultra-violent approach to lyricism. But maybe that's part of Scarface's greatness, that he could come up in a class of rappers now considered vets and still maintain a consistent level of respect and relevance in the game to also be seen as a peer of 2Pac, Nas, Jay-Z, and even Beanie Siegel. He's accomplished as much as any other Hip-Hop artist, from business to the music side of things, and, in 2002, proved he could still hang around in his third different decade of recording on a 5-Mic level. That album, The Fix, also paired the South Acres MC with QB's own, Nas, for an ode to "O.G. knowledge."

Slick Rick f/ Nas: Me & Nas Bring It to You Hardest
It takes some guts to get on a bragging track with Slick Rick. While Nas' storytelling abilities are worthy enough to be compared to the pioneer legacy left by MC Ricky D, he's never been quite the brag artist, at least not to equal one of the greats. This is especially evident on the song in question, Me & Nas Bring It to You Hardest, where, despite being more than a decade removed from his Great Adventures debut, Rick the Ruler provides his trademark combination of conceitedness plus charisma, "when I step into a room, pimps hide they hoes ." Enhanced by his UK stylings, Me & Nas is another example of Slick Rick as the original aristocrat MC, whose asshole tendencies were balanced with the right amount of wit to win over even the crumbs.

Run-D.M.C. f/ Nas, Prodigy: Queens Day
Scarface f/ Nas: In Between Us
Slick Rick f/ Nas: Me & Nas Bring It to You Hardest

Monday, October 16, 2006

Another Yesterday

Part of the reason Hip-Hop Is Dead is so anticipated, beyond fans just wanting to hear new music, is because there's a certain curiosity as to where Nas will take the album. This means not only what coming to Def Jam and working with a stable of new producers will entail, but, literally, which Nas will show up.

Perhaps more than any other rapper, each new Nas album has reflected a certain personal and artistic change. God's Son wasn't Escobar, the fiery return of Stillmatic contrasted with the depression of I Am, and the engaged, father of Street's Disciple surely differed from the street corner youth of Illmatic. In the decade-plus since Nas first broke into the game, he's gone from saying he "won't plant seeds" to dedicating whole songs to his daughter, from a lifestyle with "crazy bitches" to celebrating monogamy and getting married. And while these changes have not always produced artistically successful projects, they do reflect a personal growth, a honesty with the music that Nas exemplifies as much as anyone.

At the same time, though we're curious where he's going to take the new album, in most of us who beg for Primo or wax nostalgic on those Halftime days, there's a desire to hear that early Nas once more, that Illmatic Nas, that '94 adrenaline shot from the jungles of QB that came in without all the pretenses and impossible expectations future albums would meet. We want to hear those struggles from the stoop's side of things, when the beats were that classic New York call, the tooth was chipped, and the name was Nasty. Yet, as Nas has continually said, "it's always forward I'm moving, never backwards." Because of this, the only real way to revisit those days is to revisit that classic ten track trek of his, or, because like anything where Nas leaves a trail of unreleased work around, you can go back before Illmatic, before '94, to when it was Just Another Day in the Projects.

One of several available pre-Illmatic songs, Just Another Day in the Projects is similar to the later NY State of Mind; the two even share a couple of the very same rhymes, "I had a dream I was a gangsta / Drinking Moet, holding Tec's." However, whereas Nas rather quickly snaps out of that dream on the Primo-laced album turn, "but just a nigga, walking with his finger on the trigger", here Nas leads the illusion on for an entire lengthy-sized verse. The conclusion is along the same lines, where thoughts of the good life are juxtasposed by the trigger-ready reality of the projects, but the gangsta fantasy scene is at least given more descriptive space on Just Another Day:

Custom made suits, hands full of ice and gold
Making $1000 bets on the dice I roll
Girls work the night patrol, the whore market
When I walk, niggas is rolling out the red carpet
In looking at the song's overall lyrical content, as it was most likely written when Nas was still just a teenager and yet to develop the voice that would shine on Memory Lane or Life's A Bitch, for instance, there's a particular roughness to his rap. As an example, you hear him using "nine", on two different occasions, to set off a rhyme and see him blunder with a couple borderline corny brags, "I made the bad guys on Miami Vice look nice." Fortunately, elsewhere, Nas still proves quite adept with a multisyllabic style and a use of verbal imagery, such as in his description of a New York cop, "he looked like a Klansman with a gun." Even still, that aforementioned roughness, that rawness, if amateurish at points, is part of what is so appealing about a track like Just Another Day in the Projects. It reminds people of a time when Nas was Nasty, when the package wasn't so polished, when Hip-Hop could come from the gutter without first being sanitized for mass consumption. But everything has changed, Nas included.

From the early 90's to now in 2006, Nas' world view has evolved noticeably; as a result, no matter how nostalgic you may get, it'd be rather futile to ask him to go back to "gunfights with mega cops." It'd be impossible to have him deliver another Illmatic -- Hip-Hop Is Dead is the title after all.

As a final note, it appears necessary to remind that Hip-Hop Is Dead is not the name of the new LP because the south has been the go-to choice for the past couple years, as some have taken it to imply. Instead, it's fitting because the corporate machine, from record companies to communication channels, has expanded ever more and more, consolidating power in the hands of a few scant shareholders. In the process, what gets play has become overwhelmingly one-sided, the artist increasingly deprived of any control, integrity lost for all. With this pressure on Hip-Hop, this loss right before him, having seen something once so potent stripped of its very spirit, it'll be interesting to see how Nas reacts and in what mood the game has left him; come December, we'll hopefully find out.

Nas: Just Another Day in the Projects

Friday, October 13, 2006

Roundup PT VI

The major news coming from Nas' corner regards the new album, but let's start elsewhere first:
  • Before his own project hits stores, come next Tuesday, October 17th, Nas will be featured on two new releases: Diddy's Press Play (Everything I Love) and Hi-Tek's Hi-Teknology 2 (Music For Life). The version of Music For Life I previously upped featured only Nas, but the retail copy includes a very poignant message left by the late J Dilla and one from Busta Rhymes, as well as a new verse by Common. On Diddy's side of things, he announced that Everything I Love will get the "split video" treatment. Remember what happened last time Nas and Puffy did a video together?
  • Earlier this year, Fat Joe criticized Nas and his partnership with Jay-Z, "I used to look up to Nas a lot, and I don't really respect what he did." Because Misters Escobar and Crack used to be more aligned than not, even collaborating on 1998's John Blaze, this revelation came as a surprise to many. Well, according to the most recent album release schedule, with Nas said to be on Joe's upcoming Me, Myself, & I, whatever discrepancies were momentarily there have supposedly been put aside. UPDATE: Fat Joe's album came out today and Nas is nowhere to be found on it. Maybe there was bad info from the release schedule lineup, maybe the track hit the cutting room floor suddenly, maybe the beef is still there, maybe maybe not.
  • Perhaps more cloudy than the Fat Joe-and-Nas setup is the trio of Rakim-Freddie Foxxx-and-Nas. Now, Foxxx and Rakim have their own issues, going back to earlier Long Island days, where, depending on who you ask, Ra did or did not turn down a challenge from the one Bumpy Knuckles. Later, Rakim got a little touchy when the subject was brought up in an interview; Foxxx then responded, in print and on record. On that record is where Nas, seemingly out of the blue, becomes involved, "Here's the facts / Eric B wanted Nas / Ra said he was wack / Jesus Christ was black / So Nas, you ain't God's Son / 'Cause he won't do the track." This is all a part of the strong-armed MC's portrayal of Rakim as a liar, a phony, and his point that, in this case, whatever respect has been shown to Nas isn't how it really is. (Freddie Foxxx himself is cool with Nas, as the two once recorded Turn Up The Mic together.) However, with the Eric B-Nas connection left as vague as possible and Rakim yet to tell his side of things, this story remains unfinished.
Okay, but the big news now: Hip-Hop Is Dead. Several media entities with press credentials I wish I could pull recently had a chance to preview songs from Nas' upcoming release. These parties include XXL, MTV, and FADER. From reading their write-ups, and also based on earlier reports, here's what we know thus far:
  • Carry the Tradition (Prod. Scott Storch): According to his interview on Radio 1, Nas covers the subject of old school rappers who have been left out of much of Hip-Hop's commercial success, now becoming upset at Nas and his generation of MC's for their good fortune. Fader describes the beat as "pretty."
  • Blunt Ashes (Prod. Chris Webber): That's right, that Chris Webber. If you've been following the concreteloop part of the world, you'd know that Nas and C-Webb have been friends for quite some time now. However, that the power forward is producing a track on one of the most anticipated albums of the year is still a bit surprising. (Word is Chris might have done some ghostproducing before, coming up under the tutelage of Detroit's Kaos & Mystro.) For his part, Nas is said to go through the high's and low's of a laundry list of varying famous people.
  • Hip-Hop Is Dead (Prod. Will.I.Am): This one's just as Rolling Stone reported back in the summer, where "hard drums and crowd chants rule." Moreover, MTV writes that it incorporates Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. Salaam Remi previously used the Incredible Bongo Band cover of that classic for Thief's Theme, so we'll have to wait to see how they compare.
  • Play on Playa (Feat. Snoop Dogg) (Prod. Scott Storch): If your memory is good enough, the title "Play on Playa" should sound familiar. This is because, in certain Street's Disciple media coverage, Playa was written up, and even quoted, "throw carnations at my tombstone." On the other hand, a Snoop Dogg appearance was not documented in any press, so that appears to be a recent addition.
  • QB True G (Feat. The Game) (Prod. Dr. Dre): Although no official word has been sent down yet, Nas has hinted that his collaboration could end up as the "street single" look. From the production's side, MTV relays that "the beat has the feel of the dark party track Dre gave 50 Cent for the Outta Control remix, but [with] a bit more bite." FADER too sizes it up as a left turn, in the sense that Nas is enlisting these big name hitmakers but not so much for their instant Billboard-chart qualities.
  • Still Dreamin' (Feat. Kanye West) (Prod. Kanye West): Having previously used Kanye's production to propel Poppa was a Player, Nas returns with his Chicago brethren, though this time 'Ye handles both rapping and beatmaking duties. Apparently Nas delivers two verses, including a story set on the fast life of a female newscaster caught up in some nasty nasal habits.
  • Unforgettable (Feat. Chrisette Michele) (Prod. Will.I.Am): Based on the Nat King Cole standard of the same name, XXL first reported that "Yvette Michele" was the featured female singer. However, "Chrisette Michele" turns out to be the real "Michele", and also just happens to be a Def Jam artist. MTV makes it out to be a reminisce-type track, which has always been a strength of Nas'.
  • Where Are They Now (Prod. Nas): While write-ups thus far do not mention it, back on Radio 1, Nas broke down this song and his role behind the boards as well. Nas explained how it focuses on today's young rap music audience and their disconnect from the very artists that once inspired him back in his youth.
  • Where Y'all At (Prod. Salaam Remi): Although it was let loose this past summer, Where Y'All At also has not been discussed during the preview reports as of yet, but we can probably assume that's because it's already out there.
That makes nine songs we know the titles, guest lists, and production credits for. Others have also been referenced by XXL, MTV, and FADER, although with some information lacking:
  • Let Me in the Light (Feat. ???) (Prod. Kanye West): XXL suggested that "one of Nas' homies does a good Anthony Hamilton impersonation on the hook" but didn't have a name to offer. Perhaps that means Ill Will Records signee Tre Williams, who does have a quality similar to Anthony Hamilton. Williams was also featured on several tracks from 2005's Living Legends mixtape, including Jackson Street.
  • New York Stomp (Prod. ???): If the aforementioned QB True G is not going to be the single release, a Mixtape Monday interview with Nas has the rapper saying that honor could go to a record named, "New York Stomp." No mention of any such title has been made elsewhere however.
  • White Man's Paper (War) (Feat. Damian Marley) (Prod. ???): The reggae-scented duet between Nas and Marley, in part, concerns "the politics of warfare", as Rolling Stone detailed earlier. The question marks regarding the producer are there because we only know from FADER that "some new African dude" put the work in. Who is that? It's anyone's guess, Africa is kinda big.
  • Title Unknown??? (Prod. Salaam Remi): As the first outlet to hit on this one, FADER tells of the song's stadium-like strings and drums. With Nas striking a bit venomous, apparently the stadium setting takes on an especially Roman coliseum feel. New York Stomp?
  • Title Unknown??? (Feat. Jay-Z) (Prod. L.E.S.): According to XXL, Jay-Z and Nas "knocked out three songs in one night, and one is making [Hip-Hop Is Dead]." This doesn't necessarily mean that all important first collaboration will appear on HHID, but, during the Westwood interview, Nas implied that much. And lucky LES gets the honor (see: pressure).
So you got your Jay-Z collaboration, your Dre and Kanye beats, and nothing that seems to be pining for the TRL market too hard. You got your political Nas, your introspective Nas, your student-of-the-game Nas, and your angry Nas. You got over a dozen tracks and a swelling of anticipation, and yet you may still not be satisfied, "where's Primo?" Well, Nas recently sat down for a partially coherent interview with AHH, where, amongst other things, he kinda sorta told them that DJ Premier was on the album, "some people I've been working with, you know Salaam Remi, L.E.S., you know Dr. Dre, not as much but Dre. Premier, you know." So . . . .
    • Hip-Hop Is Dead . . . The N: December 19, 2006.
    Fat Joe f/ Nas, Big Pun, Raekwon & Jadakiss: John Blaze
    Freddie Foxxx f/ Nas: Turn Up The Mic
    Nas f/ Tre Williams: Jackson Street
    BONUS: Freddie Foxxx: Rakim Diss
    BONUS: Incredible Bongo Band: In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Keep Goin'

    Suge Knight is evil.

    Not that I necessarily have any Old Testament passages to quote, but there's definitely an underworld vibe with the one Mr. Marion. Maybe it's the baldhead-bearded look, maybe it's the fact that he's been smoking the same stogie since forever and lung cancer is too scared to set in, maybe he truly is Bizarro Kool-Aid Man, whatever, but you do get the feeling that Suge Knight would be more than comfortable eating hard-boiled eggs in Harlem. Above anything, he is most responsible for pushing rap music in the mid-90s in such an extreme direction, a direction that it probably wouldn't have gone without him. Sure, he didn't invent rap beef, and Puffy, Pac, Biggie, Snoop, and the LAPD are not without their own blame, but like some Hip-Hop version of the Bush administration, Suge rode a consistent campaign of fear and bullying to platinum success. He prodded and poked his stable of artists into joining this clusterfuck of a coastal feud, in the process, bringing the wrong kind of attention to the genre from all the wrong kinds of people. As if that was not enough, in the years since his Death Row empire crumbled, his biggest stars either jumping ship or winding up dead, he's attempted to manipulate the music they made while with him and sabotage their new projects as well.

    For an example of this nonsense, take the Dogg Pound track Don't Stop, Keep Goin'. The version most will have heard came on 2001's 2002, where the team of Daz and Kurupt were paired with a recycled Bad Boy-killer verse from the late Tupac Shakur. The release of this 2002 album coincided with Suge's release from prison and his plans to rejuvenate the crippled Death Row record label, so what better way to start anew than to rely on some old tricks. It's all a part of the Suge Knight overseer strategy: milk the tapes and tension until they're dry and then try and sell their dust to the suburbs. But this isn't even the half of the real story.

    Back in 1995, the Dogg Pound released their debut, Dogg Food. This since-overlooked LP was full of Daz's Dre-like g-funk beats and Kurupt's lyrical sniper-tight verses. In recent years, it's been played off as just another second-string Death Row release, a cog in the anti-New York machine. However, while the most infamous Dogg Food track, New York New York, did feature Snoop Dogg mocking NY in his opening ad-libs and later crushing Big Apple skyscrapers in the video, as those instances proved to be in the minority, it's really been misrepresented. In fact, not only would it seem a little odd for Philadelphia-born Kurupt to be taking shots at his home turf or thereabouts, but the duo, at the time, had even reached out to one of New York's finest, Nas.

    Yes, the initial plan was for Nas to guest on Dogg Food, but because Suge ruled over Death Row with a one-note grip, trying to pump up beef between East Coast and West Coast, and win over 2Pac probably too, Nas was cut. And what song was he cut from? That's right, Don't Stop, Keep Goin'. The reason we know this at all is because of the original track's release on The Last of Tha Pound project, Daz's strike back at Suge for mucking up his music all these years. (Note the number of "Fuck Death Row" taunts from Daz as well.) While all three MC's seize upon the song's smoothed out production, for his part, Nas does a bit of what would eventually become Nas Is Coming, but also provides some otherwise unheard-of vintage Esco flow:

    For you to diss is hazardous, gold chain and diamond Lazarus
    I rap fabulous, loaded gat stay strapped and cap cabbages
    Jesus Christ, I piece it right on the time
    Interludes vary like illusions in the mind
    Destruction on the black planet, I crack granite
    Bourgeois repertoire, rude and bad-mannered
    That Don't Stop is available now hardly erases the fact that it should have been heard over a decade ago, back when its "East-West connection" would have been a welcome break from all the coastal posturing and the antics of an oversized ex-bodyguard. It would have meant Nas, Kurupt, and Daz all together, in their prime, making music and not just threats.

    Tha Dogg Pound f/ Nas: Don't Stop, Keep Goin'

    Sunday, October 08, 2006

    Posse Up

    If it's true that Hip-Hop took a nosedive at the end of the 90's, that there have been very few quality posse cuts since is understandable. What once used to be a staple in rap music, the joining together of a handful of MC's over one beat with a single mission, over time has been replaced by the likes the rap / rock collaboration, the club banger, and the R&B first single. And while there have been a few notable exceptions in recent years (Scarface's Southern Nigga, Kanye West's We Can Make It Better, Federation's Hyphy remix, etc.), the posse cut has mostly suffered the same fate of Busta Rhyme's recent Touch It remix: poorly conceived, poorly executed, jumbled, and contrived.

    In discussion here of these Hip-Hop hallmarks, it's then fitting that Nas' name was made off of one of the finest, Main Source's Live at the Barbeque. After this introduction, Nas went on to grace a number of other gems, everything from Back to the Grill to the Affirmative Action remix. He even was featured on 2004's Grand Finale, a nod to The D.O.C. / N.W.A. classic of the same name. In honor, tonight's entry reflects an attempt to spotlight ten great posse cuts, without being too cliché however, i.e. we all know about the likes of The Symphony and Scenario and Self Destruction, Wu-Tang to the Boot Camp Clik, but what else?

    01.3 Strikes
    Askari X featuring Seagram, 3xKrazy, Bad-N-Fluenz, Mr. Ill, The Delinquents, Mike Mike Ansar Moe
    BEST VERSE: Ant Diddley Dog

    While The Bay's appearance on a list such as this usually begins and ends with the Bay Ballers remix of 5 On It, 3 Strikes says different. Not only does this 1995 sleeper feature a pre-fame Keak Da Sneak (3xKrazy), but all of the rappers were brought together in a timely protest against California's Proposition 184, the then-recently-enacted three strikes law.

    02.4 My Peeps
    Red Hot Lover Tone f/ Notorious B.I.G., Prince Poetry, & M.O.P.
    BEST VERSE: Notorious B.I.G.

    Although Red Hot Lover Tone became better known as one half of The Trackmasters, during his MC days, he was able to serve as host for this Brooklyn-Queens connection. 4 My Peeps offers production a bit more hard-hitting than Tone's latter work, allowing, for example, Biggie to ooze authority all over drums just as brash as his rhymes ever were.

    03.Don't Curse
    Heavy D f/ Kool G. Rap, Grand Puba, CL Smooth, Big Daddy Kane, Pete Rock, Q-Tip

    Yes, Don't Curse came with a music video, a Pete Rock beat, and a lineup including both G Rap and Kane, but it's been ignored too often in the fifteen years since its first release. Proof of its greatness, though you'd think with a guest list this deep there'd be a lot of chest-pumping and ego all over, the truly fun end result, where each MC plays into his own strength without overdoing it, says otherwise.

    04.Got My Mind Made Up
    2Pac f/ Daz, Kurupt, Method Man, Redman
    BEST VERSE: Method Man

    2Pac may not have always had the kindest of words for certain East Coast rappers, but his coastal feuds were usually exaggerated, as evidenced by inviting the team of Mef 'n Red along for his '96 double album, All Eyez On Me. And while Redman had previously left his mark on the similarly classic Headbanger, in the midst of a mid-90's Tical and Kurupt, two then-undeniable MC's, he gets lapped sufficiently.

    05.I Shot Ya (remix)
    LL Cool J f/ Fat Joe, Foxy Brown, Keith Murray, Prodigy
    BEST VERSE: Keith Murray

    The mid-90s New York remix posse cut honor typically goes to Craig Mack's Flava In Ya Ear. However, I Shot Ya provides a more consistent roster of rappers and an at least comprehensible verse from LL Cool J. The Mr. Smith remix as well includes the back-story of Keith Murray and Prodigy supposedly firing subliminals at one another on the very same song.

    06.Peruvian Cocaine
    Immortal Technique f/ C-Rayz Walz, Diabolic, Loucipher, Poison Pen, Pumpkinhead, Tonedeff
    BEST VERSE: Diabolic

    Even as a couple of the cuts listed thus far have also fit into the "concept" category, Immortal Technique's Peruvian Cocaine ups the ante just a little more. Not only does the track track the path cocaine takes to reach America's urban cities, but each MC acts as a voice of the trade's many players. This includes every actor from the South American laborer to the corner pusher.

    07.Show and Prove
    Big Daddy Kane f/ Scoob, Sauce Money, Shyheim, Jay-Z, Ol Dirty Bastard
    BEST VERSE: Big Daddy Kane

    Usually the leadoff spot on a posse cut is of utmost importance, as the rapper placed here can set the tone and even become show-stealer; and although Scoob, in this role, doesn't ruin the mood, Show and Prove is known more for the crew that follows, such as two top-ten worthy MC's, Big Daddy Kane and Jay-Z, and a legend in his own right, Ol' Dirty Bastard. The funny thing is that even still with these heavy-hitters around, the also-included Shyiem more than holds weight, however kid-sized it was at the time.

    08.Two To The Head
    Kool G Rap and DJ Polo f/ Geto Boys, Ice Cube
    BEST VERSE: Kool G Rap

    Since the Geto Boys, Ice Cube, and Kool G Rap represent some of the darkest, most brutal music Hip-Hop has ever produced, it is therefore appropriate that this closing track to 92's Live and Let Die provides a healthy serving of the slaughterhouse style of rap, over cellar-dwelling percussion and an eerie vocal sample. And even though the Texas boys and Compton's own don't disappoint, you had to know G Rap wasn't going to be outdone on his own album.

    09.Usual Suspects
    Mic Geronimo f/ DMX, Ja Rule, The Lox, Tragedy Khadafi

    Two different versions of Usual Suspects exist (the second exchanging Tragedy with Cormega, The Lox with Fatal Hussein). However, the Kiss-Styles sendup is highlighed to recall a time when The Lox were known less for contract disputes and more for being quality posse cut staples themselves, e.g. Banned from TV, Jada on John Blaze. Along with these two examples, Usual Suspects stands as one of the last great New York entries in the subgenre.

    10.Watch For The Hook
    Cool Breeze f/ OutKast, Goodie Mob, Witchdoctor
    BEST VERSE: Witchdoctor

    With its energetic use of Merry Clayton's Southern Man and an Olympic-like passing of mics, Watch for the Hook could probably move the pulse of a casket full of cadavers. In fact, off this song alone, many were moved to buy Cool Breeze's debut, for better or worse. Highlights include Andre's repetition of "somebody let me hold a number two pencil 'cause they testin'" and the Goodie Mob back and forth.

    Lil Jon f/ Bun B, Ice Cube, Jadakiss, Nas, T.I.: Grand Finale
    BONUS: The D.O.C. f/ N.W.A.: Grand Finale

    Friday, October 06, 2006

    Gangsta Tears

    Everybody has a hustle. From the president to probably even your mailman, there's a "get money" gene in most of us. Bootleggers, whose historical identity reeks of rum-running and smells of speakeasies, perhaps epitomize this idea of the American self-made businessman: he's got a scheme where his soul should be, a hustle where his heart used to lie. And even though you don't need to brew your gin in a bathtub anymore, the bootlegging tradition has carried over to pretty much any avenue where profit is the end result. In the context of rap music, the bootlegger is an especially infamous character, able to screw over artist and album alike in a single bound. Specifically, the spectre of this street corner salesman has loomed large over much of Nas' own career, for instance, sabotaging what could have potentially been his most creative and ambitious project, I Am. But bootleggers, at least online, have taken advantage of Nas' music in another way as well, almost opposite in direction though: instead of stealing new music and selling it, now you can buy music of Nas' that is rather old and simply repackaged. That's a hustle indeed.

    From EBAY to mixtape sites to other online locales of varying credibility, you might have seen advertisements for something known as the "Death of Escobar" bootleg. The most common tracklisting attributed to this project is as follows:

    1.After Life (Intro)
    2.Drunk By Myself
    3.Blaze a 50
    4.Gangsta Tears
    5.Just Another Day in the Projects
    6.U Gotta Luv It
    7.I'm A Villain
    8.In Too Deep
    9.Poppa was a Player
    10.Sometimes I Wonder
    11.Stay Dreamin' Stay Schemin'
    12.Tales from the Hood
    13.Wanna Play (Rough)
    14. Outro

    Well, that's a lie. For starters, the Death of Escobar album, which Nas had reportedly planned to release after Nastradamus and before thoughts of Stillmatic ever crept in, never produced much more than a couple news blips and some DJ Clue screams. So whatever tracklistings are being passed around are pure fiction. Within this proposed lineup, you then have a handful of songs that were specifically from the I Am bootleg (2,3,9,10,11,13), several of which were already released via The Lost Tapes. (Wanna Play Rough, which always seems to get the "unreleased" tag, was officially put out on a 2000 Dame Grease compilation.) And although U Gotta Love It might not have been on the I Am bootleg, it too was part of those Lost Tapes. Next, I'm A Villain and Just Another Day In The Project would be better suited for a "Death of Nasty Nas" bootleg, since they're from even before Illmatic.

    Additionally, the inclusion of In Too Deep and Gangsta Tears really underscores a gullible audience and a wily compiler. Both songs are released, never a part of any major bootlegs, and less than rare even. It's just that they're hiding on soundtracks to movies not many saw and less listened to. In Too Deep is from LL Cool J's movie of the same name, while DMX's Exit Wounds originally housed Gangsta Tears. In fact, Tales from the Hood remains the only legitimate DOE track listed here: still unreleased and from the general timeframe of 00-01. All in all, whether you're buying a Death of Escobar bootleg or simply buying into it, know what you're paying for and what you're getting played for.

    However, if there is one plus to these backstreet shenanigans, it's that the number of people who would check for an "unreleased Nas album" is far greater than those holding tight onto their Exit Wounds OST. So, in this way, if we can all agree that the music is the bottom line, as many people hearing Gangsta Tears as possible is a good thing; it's one of Nas best featured songs, and one of his most atypical as well.

    Gangsta Tears first debunks the theory that Nas only sounds good over basic boom bap Illmatic style beats. The production here, contributed by Budda, is rather interesting, composed primarily of slightly-stuttered percussion and background cries. It's not the steady New York thump we might expect from Nas, but he rides it expertly nonetheless: his tone mellow but delivery moving with a bit more step. Secondly, as Exit Wounds hit stores in early 2001, this reflects a period of Nas' career typically known for crossover club attempts and gaudy jewelry and rhymes. Contrasting this idea however, Gangsta Tears is more downtrodden, lonely, burned by women and left empty by legal tender:

    I'm soul-searching, I'm so hurting
    What happens when money don't make you happy?
    I wish this on no person
    The overwhelming source for the grief captured here happens to be revealed in Nas' second verse: the murder of his long-time friend Barkim. Going all the way back to Represent, you can hear Nas mention Barkim, and though there's not much written about him other than what's been relayed through the music, circa 2001, the references Nas made started becoming more of the mournful sort, "'Rest in peace, Barkim' is all I could whisper." Knowing this then, that the funeral scene described in Gangsta Tears is not merely a creation of Nas' pen but is a reflection of his own personal experience, only enhances his already intense words. It too exposes the other side of the hustle.

    Nas: Gangsta Tears

    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    Droppin' Medieval Science

    One of the high points of the recent Queensbridge mixtape, Welcome to 6 Blocks 96 Buildings, is Prodigy's My Priorities. Anchoring the tape and highlighting one of the most prestigious QB MC's, My Priorities also features a production display that includes a throwback guitar riff, several in-and-out vocal samples, and some playful keys. It's energetic, carries instant nod appeal, and transforms Prodigy's often abrasive lyrics into something irresistible. It's also produced by The Alchemist (and originally found on the producer / rapper's 2003 mixtape Insomnia). But My Priorities is not the first the time Al and P-Double have ever worked together, because, going all the way back to 1999's Thug Muzik, Alchemist has cemented himself as a staple not only with Mobb Deep, but within the whole of QB as well; all in all, it's pretty interesting place to be for an affluent white kid originally from Beverly Hills.

    Coming up under the tutelage of DJ Muggs, Alchemist then embraced a New York State of Mind, and address, while attending NYU. And although his early days included heavy involvement with Dilated Peoples, Alchemist has become best known for working with a group of rappers who are much less mom-friendly. First introduced to the QB side of things by the Infamous Mobb, since that point, this Beatmaker on the Roof has collaborated with essentially everyone in that span of 6 blocks and 96 buildings. From underlings to overlords, Mr. Challish to the M-O-B-B, Nashawn to Nas, these projects have welcomed a steady supply of a different sort of white. And while the absolutely disgustingly gutter, blade-ready, rob-a-stranger Shook Ones might be the most identifiable Queensbridge sound, for the past seven or so years, Alchemist has injected soul into the scheme and left his own noticeable mark.

    Often touting his ASR-10 keyboard, Alchemist's sample-heavy production style switches from the brooding horns of Mobb Niggaz (The Sequel) to the more upbeat tempo of Big Noyd's Bang Bang. On that latter track, Alchemist takes a portion of The Intruders' Cowboys to Girl, "I remember when I used to play shoot 'em up . . . bang bang", and turns it into an instantly catchy refrain. This is a similar trick he parlayed into a minor hit with 2004's Hold You Down. Elsewhere, you can find his work on Prodigy's Keep It Thoro, where an exhausted near-shriek comes in and out over a pounding piano; here the repeated vocal sample is more of a sound than an actual phrase, but still quite effective. (This quick "vocal sound" technique is used as well with Mr. Challish's Money.) Then, as with Keep It Thoro, the piano is another prime player on The Grimy Way, but it's a single-note strike this time around, matched with an array of horns. Feeling more sparse, there's Al doing his the-hood-meets-X-Files keyboard thing on Trag's Love Is Love, and on Lake's We Gon' Buck, he showcases a set of eerie strings. These tracks all epitomize the producer's proficiency with any number of sample sources, able to manipulate them into a style that's at times soulful, at times murky, but always QB.

    While the rappers listed above range from all-time greats to mere weed carriers, perhaps the most legendary MC Alchemist has worked with is none other than Nas. The first time many people heard Nas over Al's production was on The Lost Tapes, where the breakbeat appeal of No Idea's Original and the piano-approach of My Way were both leftovers from the Stillmatic sessions. However, the first actual meeting between the two came courtesy of Lake's 2001 compilation, The 41st Side. That track, Let Em Hang, especially with its shoddy singing careening all over, was a relative disappointment from the beat's side of things. Fortunately, Nas' verse-and-a-half was good enough to make up for any R&B mistakes:

    Foes decompose in their coffins
    Hoes creeping with bosses
    No sleep in my fortress
    Break day thinking of losses
    Next, the trio of Nas, Lake, and Alchemist teamed up for Revolutionary Warfare and then its unreleased sequel, One Never Knows. Again, the One Never Knows beat is a bit of a misstep. However, as with the case of Let Em Hang, this is a song more notable for its lyrical content--well, its concept, at least. Nas and Lake both pose a series of questions to themselves, addressing a laundry list of persistent rumors: everything from Nas having a run at a number of R&B females to Lake shooting at Capone. But, as stated above, although Alchemist's bassline is prominent enough, and there's some definite atmosphere, the beat never really becomes too much of anything. On the other hand, another Nas / Alchemist collaboration, Tick Tock, this time with Prodigy along, got the formula just right.

    Tick Tock floated around no man's land for a while before finally settling down on the 1st Infantry album. Thankfully it did find a home, because its layered soul supplies the immediate feel of a sleek '76 Cadillac, the sonic equivalent of swagger. The groove runs so deep that you could probably play this through the cheapest of IPOD earbuds even and walk down the street feeling like Youngblood Priest with a case of Spanish Fly and a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. Nas and Prodigy come off strong too, but this is the Beverly Hill kid's shine all the way. He's doing Queensbridge right.

    RTA: The Alchemist QB Collection
    Includes: Alchemist f/ Illa Ghee, Nina Sky, Prodigy: Hold You Down; Big Noyd: Bang Bang; Big Noyd f/ Prodigy: The Grimy Way; Capone-N-Noreaga, Cormega & Lake: We Gon Buck; Infamous Mobb f/ Mobb Deep: Lake f/ Nas: Let Em Hang; Lake, Nas: One Never Knows; Mobb Niggaz (The Sequel); Mobb Deep f/ Chinky, Infamous Mobb: Thug Muzik; Mr. Challish: Money; Nas, Prodigy: Tick Tock; Nashawn: Write Your Name; Prodigy: Keep It Thoro; Prodigy: My Priorities; Tragedy f/ Jinx: Love Is Love

    Sunday, October 01, 2006

    Kiss The Ring!

    Yesterday, on September 30th, while Nas was in the middle of helping out Jay-Z on his world tour, the QB MC stopped by to talk with BBC Radio 1 DJ Tim Westwood. Nas and Westwood go back to Illmatic days, so there was definitely a comfortable relationship that aided in producing a good interview. Here are some highlights:

    • Regarding his partnership with Jay-Z, Nas explained how the opportunity affords both rappers a level of leadership and maturity, two things needed more in Hip-Hop, "in the rap community, we gotta stand up and change the game every so often, if not, it's just gonna be over, it's gonna be dead."
    • Nas then touched on the idea of unity, "when you first get in the game, you're reckless, you're crazy, so that's excusable. But as time goes on, you see the bigger picture, and you realize there's strength in numbers. We're stronger together."
    • Concerning the current state of Hip-Hop, Nas remarked, "we just coasting, we just getting by, we having fun." As far as what's wrong with the big picture, he described the scene as all too one-sided, "everybody should get a shot, everybody should get a listen, a fair listen, a fair shot. And it's hard for that to happen, because there's so much money involved, and politics."
    • One of the most interesting points Nas made, and what appears to be an extension of the themes he stressed on Black Zombie and We Major, for example, is that rappers have "no real control, no real position of power. So until we reach that, we're never gonna know what the future of the rap game is. . . . All of us are underneath one roof; it's all conglomerates, all record companies, from Universal to Def Jam to Interscope, we're all under one roof, all of us rappers. And we're the ones breaking down the paper, after they get their cut first. We just gotta change the positions, and it's about to happen."
    • Specifically, Nas contrasted the heads of all these labels with the artists themselves, who often lack any noticeable control, "if we put our own records out . . . could you imagine what 50 Cent could be doing, what Nas, Jay, Eminem, if we were the Jimmy Iovine's? Could you imagine the power we'd have? And I think that's where we're headed."
    • Changing topics, as to whose album will be the home for the much-anticipated Jay-Z / Nas collaboration, Nas answered, "you know that's my album." When asked about its subject matter, "it's talking about power, and it's street."
    • Nas also admitted that with a title like "Hip-Hop Is Dead", he might have bit off more than he could chew. On the other hand, he stated that it's really been a good thing, because of all the conversation it's created and the energy that has swelled around it.
    • At this point, Nas mentioned Where Are They Now, a song produced by himself and slated for the upcoming HHID. Supposedly, it deals with a number of rappers that Nas personally grew up fond of, but that, today, young audiences don't even know. Aware of what direction this kind of "schooling" can sometimes go, Nas also stated that he was trying to avoid "the preachy, teach level; I wanted to keep it cool, not too heavy."
    • Keeping the idea of respecting old school artists in mind, Nas expressed an interest in doing a "Hip-Hop Is Alive" Foundation / Tour, where he would bring along a number of these older acts to make some money and make up for the bad breaks they might have caught early on. He acknowledged that because "the business is a demon", many of these veterans were ripped off and, as a result, are not really where they should be.
    • Nas even talked about how the Rolling Stones logo (the lips) serves as a merchandising brand and a big cash source for the band. Similarly, Nas was thinking what if you took the Fat Boys logo, put it on a shirt, nothing bootleg either, and helped ensure that the artists themselves would see most of the returns, "when you help them, you're helping yourself."
    • Another HHID track Nas brought up was Carry On Tradition. Apparently, it involves an attitude Nas himself has faced, where some of those same rappers from the 80's ended up being mad at Nas and his generation, for their own bad luck. Nas justified some of their anger though, "a lot of the new generation, mainly, really don't care about them." He added, "it's a discredit to [the listener] by not trying to figure out who these people are, because how are you gonna know where you're going if you don't know where they went? And how do you respect this if you don't respect them?"
    • Next, Nas confirmed his appearance on The Game's album. Elsewhere, that collaboration has been reported to be nine-minutes long.
    • Then, when questioned about recent Mobb Deep moves, as a business thought, Nas replied, "it's beautiful that other artists can get together and help each other out." However, he said the G-Unit partnering lacked artistic integrity or any overall excitement. Specifically about 50 Cent, Nas commented that "50 is too new, and he's too excited about who he is--with all respect--he's too excited too really know how to do a Mobb album. Because, really, he's not even Mobb Deep level yet, as far as a seasoned artist." Finally, more joking than not, he told Mobb Deep to "come sign to Nas, let's get this new album right."
    • One of the last subjects that Nas and Tim Westwood discussed was the classic line from Illmatic, "sleep is the cousin of death." Because Westwood wanted to understand Nas' particular message there, Nas explained it to be about how "the other side, where we go when we pass, is really just around the corner. You rest when you're dead. Also, when we say, 'sleep', we talk about not being focused, 'you sleeping!' And that's a form of death while you're alive. . . . If you're sleeping on yourself, you're killing yourself. Mainly, it's just to remind you how, in a blink of an eye, this life, the importance of it, the shortness of it, the length of it, is right around the corner, the other side, so get yours while you're here."
    • "Hip-Hop Is Dead . . . December"
    Nas: Tim Westwood Interview 2006
    BONUS: Nas: Classic Westwood Freestyle