Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I Already Know

Out of left field comes this Nas collaboration with the brains behind the Thong Song, Tim & Bob. The duo has also worked with the likes Boyz II Men and the Isley Brothers, and even Nas previously on the remix to Bobby Valentino's Slow Down, but I don't think this was expected. The production has an odd boudoir-Wudang Mountains feel to it, as Nas provides three female-concerned verses of varying quality. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I'm going out on a very hopeful limb and saying this is not for Hip-Hop Is Dead. Perhaps it's for Corny R&B-Styled Hooks Should Be Killed.

Man, Prince was a pimp
Apollonia, Vanity, Shelia E had me on the edge of insanity
Swore if I made it in music, I'd be similar
Here I am, this is the future, I'm where the women are
Rocking with Tim & Bob, y'all need me, shine the spotlight up
In the sky then like Batman, I pops right up
This is Nas, hate if you must hate
Been hot since the days of cassette tapes
T-Shirts over the thermal, drifting on memories
Sipping that Hennessy, 4-5th in my denim jeans
She told me she wants my eyelashes
When we hump, I grunt, just like a Bullmastiff
They call me the best whoever did it
Only in the club one minute, guess who I slid wit'
A chocolate dyke, ghetto thing, sweet
We gon' pop tonight, bon appetit

You know
Mirror, mirror on the wall
Who's the nastiest, sexiest, thug of 'em all
Seen her in the mall, she was wearing
Comme Des Garcon ??? cherie cologne
She was looking very alone
Till this big weightlifting Mr. Universe clone
Starts grabbing her arm
But she can't stop looking, I'm in the zone
One look at the kid, she's taking off her stone
Cash crazy, ass crazy, hair long
The baby amaze me because I'm in rare form
She like an ice cold bowl of Post Honeycomb
Followed me in the shop while I cop Nina Simone
Tapped me on the shoulder, I told her I'm on the phone
I played it off well - nobody was on the cell, shit, she set the tone
She said, "Excuse me Mr. So-And-So, should I leave you alone?"

You know
Lover not a fighter
I'm the vagina-lining reconstructer, bed sheet-ruffler
For your freak girls undercover, who love's ya?
I'm not a priest, don't front for me
But step in my confessional
That's the bedroom, to tell the truth I be impressed you don't wait
Before you pass your collection plate
Show me you a professional, so we straight
She tried to kiss my lips, but no, I don't do that
Want me to kiss her lips, but not with a new jack
Few stacks, spend my chips, yeah, I do that
See, the problem with ya women is . . .
Look, I got 'em
You can hear a mouse piss on cotton
You don't wanna miss it, then listen
Stop stressing a man, we out to get as much sex as we can
And you roll with the plan, shortie, you live
Uh, but you gotta leave, it's 2:45

Nas: I Already Know
BONUS: Bobby Valentino f/ Nas: Slow Down (remix)

Access Granted

BET Access Granted, The Terrero Brothers, and Nas present:

Hip-Hop Is Dead
Vote for Hip-Hop Is Dead on BET.

Thanks much to Nabs.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

QB Tru G

I see you Def Jam.

Nas' new label is trying to build up buzz for Hip-Hop Is Dead, i.e., the songs that have been leaked so far seem to have been given the corporate okay. Hustlers (QB Tru G), produced by Dr. Dre and featuring The Game, is the latest example.

Do the history
Way before The Firm, like back in the day
Nas was the first New York nigga rapping with Dre
So of course I got a track to bring it back to your face
The one kid that woulda been Aftermath but got away
But we still get together like every several years
To sprinkle - a little bit of Heaven for your ears
Relax, sipping Clicquot in Rio
Stupid fuckers, low keynote g's
But it's still Gucci luggage, I love Cape Cod
And watching fly bitches with grey eyes
Wrestle in a tub of KY to get my day by
I like to celebrate, why?
'Cause I can vision collages of images
Of my life with no regrets or hate
So every breath I take
It's all about the rules
It's hard for you to breathe, like you at high altitude
So crack the Patron, it's on, heathens
The God's back, hardbody, Mr. Jones never leaving

[N]He a Compton, Compton OG
[G]Mix that with a QB, QB Tru G
[G]Whatcha got [N] is a concotion
[N]Of some different ghetto blocks
[G]West Coast kill the tracks
[G]East Coast gun shots

Yo, the Jordan sporting
Come off the dice game with a fortune
Walking - you a walking coffin
The musket, I tucked it, you bluff it, I bust it
Ya sideways talking, so I lay often
I wait patient - to duct tape hating
Fuck ass niggas, get bucked ass niggas
Pluck ashes of Cuban cigars, you fooling with Nas
That's i-nane and I came with Rugers this time
And if I'm sane, that Soul Plane movie's the bomb
Word to my mom's name tattooed to my arm
You can't revolve me, embalm me
Calm me or harm me
Rob me or dodge these
Bullets I'm busting, see
That's malarkey, you yapping
I open up the tripod to put the Gatling on, and I start clapping
Nasty man from bagging grams and running from cops
To a mill in the hand, a mill in the watch, I'm fucking with Doc

Nas f/ The Game: Hustlers (QB Tru G)

Mixtape Tuesday

The anticipation of a new album and the throws of insomnia produced the following: a quick mix of the majority of Nas' work post-Street's Disciple and leading up to Hip-Hop Is Dead. It's not an expert job and was done using freeware, but it's worth a download, I'd like to think.

01.Nas - The N (2:48)
02.Break - The Jimmy Iovine's (0:13)
03.Nas - Bossed Up (0:57)
04.Nas - We Major (1:13)
05.Nas - Death Anniversary (3:15)
06.Break - The War Is Over (0:27)
07.Nas - Murder of the Gomez Brothers mix (3:47)
08.Break - Youth Movement (0:16)
09.Nas - Level 7 (2:46)
10.Nas - Across The Tracks (1:04)
11.Nas - Can't Fade Me (0:59)
12.Nas - Shootouts 2005 (1:30)
13.Break - Busta Rhymes (0:12)
14.Nas - Don't Get Carried Away (0:56)
15.Break - The Game (0:27)
16.Nas - Why You Hate The Game (1:05)
17.Nas - Black Stacey remix (1:17)
18.Nas - Rough Around The Edges (1:18)
19.Nas - Rainy Day In QB mix (4:15)
20.Break - Kelis (0:28)
21.Nas - Blindfold Me (0:39)
22.Nas - She Don't remix (0:58)
23.Nas - Everything I Love (0:58)
24.Break - The South (0:16)
25.Nas - You're Gonna Luv Me remix (1:01)
26.Nas - Thief's Theme Is Dead mix (3:56)
27.Break - New World (0:19)
28.Nas - Shine (2:40)
29.Nas - Living In Pain (0:55)
30.Nas - Road To Zion (1:02)
31.Nas - Jackson Street (0:35)
32.Break - It's Dead (0:09)
33.Nas - Music For Life (2:19)

Rebel To America: Last Rites

Monday, November 27, 2006


Not everyone in the whole of QB is worth putting on, and yet, over the years, many of them have been lined up and mic'd up and paraded around Nas' music. In a way, Nas is caught because of this: on one hand, he wants to keep the Queensbridge MC tradition alive and pay back some to block that raised him, while, at the same time, these songs hardly ever inspire much attention / praise beyond Vernon Boulevard. But Blitz is the exception to this equation. Although he's been featured just twice alongside Nas (2000's Street Glory and 2001's Every Ghetto), in each instance, he proved himself more than merely the good fortune of some hood handout; instead, he showed that he was actually worth listening to whether accompanied by Nas or not.

Even though it's been five years since that Stillmatic bonus track, Nas and Blitz are back again, as Blitz debuts his new mixtape It's a Problem Vol. 1, backed by Shadyville's DJ Noodles.

They coming at us from every direction
Each and everyone one of them with size no less than
Some linebackers, now this nigga ask the one question
"Who these guys know?", replied, "now we got the wrong impression"
He must be thinking we won't leave him dead and stinking
Hugging two dozen roses in the back of a Lincoln
Uh, time's shrinking, no patience left
It was me, Gov, Cuzzo, Black, and little Nef
No escaping death, it's either us or them
Cuz left a hole in his chest bigger than his rims
The DJ backspins and Nas been on the sound system
Niggas' lives ending, they rich enough to buy women
Linen suits wasn't bulletproof
Adios, mad fights breaking out over by the coats
I'm trying to hide the toast, sneaking out
Hawaiian hoes in the hotel, why the fuck did we go out?
Jump in the car, who they recognize? . . . Nas
That's all I need, another fucking charge
Barging the hotel, Cuzin's like, "oh well"
Nef got caught and guess who gotta post bail
Took a while but I see how niggas get down
Get me all hot and now I gotta skip town
And I ain't even the shooter, fell asleep with the Ruger
Next day we caught a flight to St. Lucia

Blitz f/ Nas, Tre Williams: Hush

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Even More Fingers

Analyze This
If you ask someone about the recently-leaked Black Republican Nas / Jay-Z track, they might tell you that's not really the first collaboration between the two rappers; next, they would point to something called Analyze This. However, what they're referring to is actually a blend. The story goes that NBA center Shaquille O'Neal was assembling material for his 1996 release Can't Stop The Reign. He then brought in the Trackmasters who eventually enlisted their comrade Nas to lay down some vocals. Nas obliged, spit an Esco-inspired verse but then ran into some issues. Either there were money holdups or personality disagreements, whatever, but he soon dropped out, and Jay-Z, coming off the release of Reasonable Doubt, was brought in as a replacement. Subsequently, it was only years later, with Shaq completely edited out but Lord Tariq, also on the original, still there, that Nas and Jay-Z's raps were paired together.

Nasir Jones
The first song on 2005's Nas / Dirty Harry mixtape Living Legends found the rapper delivering an emotionally-fueled story rap over a collection of charging horns and strings, "In this room / This hideout, seclusion / It's darker soon / I'll ride out as soon as the sun's up / My goons with their guns up / Are tired, been driving for hours / Not resting, inside I feel weary / My mind and my spirit strained / The suffering, the pain / Missing my wife and my kids / And at night, I wish for the day / I see that this world will be righteous and fair / I struggle, my life isn't rare / While smoking, I heard a commotion, I stare / From the window, I call to my gods / "They coming, get ready, let's do it" / Fast as your perish, I laugh while I'm jetting / You get, keep going, you slowly closing in on this shit / You bitches remember I did it the best / Slugs'll enter your chest / Alive, I spin around and press / The triggers and cry"

Let My Niggas Live
Every time a new Nas album rolls around, people start pining for the Premier's and Large Professor's to come aboard. However, there's another legendary New York producer whose track record and success rate with Nas is just as unbeatable: RZA. First on Raekwon's Purple Tape and then on 2000's The W, the QB MC and the do-anything Brooklynite cooked up two songs as impressive as they were unique. While '95 found Nas in the grips of Escobar and RZA calling on some Shaolin soul, the later collaboration, Let My Niggas Live, proved all the more grim. Based around a rather sparse rhythm, the beat here is a skeletal collection of tambourines and almost knock-at-the-door-like percussion. Fittingly, Nas caps off with a verse just as shadowy, anxious, and expressive. He traces everything from the figure of a hunted man taking sanctuary in a Black church to the pattern of an addict's abused veins. And even though the Wu brain trust didn't let Nas bat leadoff this go-round, a la Verbal Intercourse, with his dark imagery and detail, once more Nas is the star attraction, next to RZA's production of course.

Nas' Angels... The Flyest
There is no two million dollar beat--never was and probably never will be. The rumor that Nas had won a high-priced bidding war for a Neptunes' production spot was just that, a rumor. Regardless, Nas has twice been featured on Neptunes tracks: once on a remix to Kelis' Popular Thug, and then the more so solo Charlie's Angel soundtrack cut, Nas' Angels. Related to Nas' Angels specifically, there is a common thought that Nas lacks the versatility to sound comfortable over more club-friendly tracks. While, sure, his style is more at home amongst a more thoughtful sound than what the average ladies' night provides, he has charted time and time again, just as this particular Neptunes concoction did. However, numbers aside, how does the quality fare? Well, the overall sound here is dated, especially with the now-cliché inclusion of Raje Shwari for the Indian flair on the vocals. Nas then delivers a pretty ehh-inspiring performance, mostly littered with generic name brand references; yet, his rhyme scheme does manage to out-bumrush the club scene in the final verse, "I got 'em / Peeling out their clothes / Really 'bout this dough / Problem / Hear me out , I just go for my steel pistol / Poppin'."

Why (remix)
A surprise political hit from the 2004 election year, Jadakiss' Why found the rapper teaming up with the Alchemist Havoc for a generally effective question and answer session. Then, for the remix, Jada invited his rhyming partner Styles P along, as well as Common and Nas. For his part, Nas asks why not form alliances with Zimbabwe. Reading Zimbabwe as representative of a larger picture of Africa, this is an idea Nas has cherished throughout most of his career. It's an interesting depiction, because when he speaks of Africa, it has almost has this abstract sense about it. For instance, taken quite literally, freeing criminals from New York's Attica Prison and sending them across seas, as described on If I Ruled The World, or, as in the movie Belly, all of a sudden planning to go to "Africa" as if it is one specific location where all the planes land, Nas comes off a little foolish. However, if you read "Africa" as a metaphor for a spiritual state of mind, this Black haven of peace and righteousness, it tends to make more sense. Nas isn't proposing a specific point-by-point program to strengthen economic ties with Zimbabwe as much as he is encouraging a connection with Africa, a metaphysical path home.

Jadakiss f/ Styles P, Common, Nas: Why (remix)
Jay-Z, Lord Tariq, Nas: Analyze This
Nas: Nasir Jones
Nas f/ Pharrell: Nas' Angels
Wu-Tang Clan f/ Nas: Let My Niggas Live

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

More Fingers

Can't Fade Me
While most attention paid to Cassidy has either concerned his murder trial or recent near-fatal car accident, he of course first made his name coming up on the freestyle battle circuit. That his album work never really got too much notice shouldn't be a surprise though: his first album, Split Personality, was handcuffed from the start by a mundane R. Kelly duet, in the midst of a slew of such Kells collaborations; and his most recent project, I'm A Hustla, featured a weakly-produced lead single maligned by an already cliché Black Album vocal sample and then trotted out B Boy Stance, more known for a its anti-50 Cent video, another uninspired career choice. To play computer A&R for a minute, if Cassidy and company had instead chosen Can't Fade Me, a smoothed out slice of soul guest starring Nas and Quan, although it may not have guaranteed pay dirt, it at least would have been a welcome change of pace. For Nas' part, his verse is a cross-country travel, a semi-sequel to God's Son Get Down.

I Want It
E Money Bags has been a presence in Nas' music since the early days. However, that he was a part of a less musically-inclined side of things, namely crime, is the most intriguing aspect of the story. And while his murder in 2001, allegedly by the order of legendary boss Supreme McGriff, in retaliation for the killing of Black Just, did shed some public light on the interbreeding of rap music and the streets, there are connections beyond this one court case: connections between guys who touted platinum sales and guys who toted steel weapons, those who rapped with 5-percenter-based rhymes and those who used the faith almost as a gang recruitment tool, and those who took on mob personas and those who never needed to act at all. And though Nas' work with E Money Bags on I Want It doesn't reveal the world, it does confirm the relationship between the two, a relationship that most likely went beyond what anyone would ever volunteer to admit, "If the street could speak and sidewalk could talk / Everybody business be heard - so I prefer / To blueprint every plan amongst fam clear / Don't wanna risk a billion dollar plan, the walls have ears."

Number One with a Bullet
Even as you hear Nas proclaim, "9-6 shit" at the beginning of Kool G Rap's Number One With A Bullet, it hardly sounds as if from that time period (probably because it got a mixtape look in 1996 but was recorded much earlier). For starters, the dancehall-styled hook and the ugly-in-a-good-way production all point to the early 90's, but the real evidence comes with Nas' own verse. Keeping in mind the differences between his Illmatic and Escobar periods, Nas' rhyme-scheme is not as dexterous as it would prove on It Was Written, his voice has been intentionally deepened a la I'm A Villain, and his content mirrors the snuffin'-Jesus shock-orientated style he primarily sported early on in his career. Lastly, Nas' reference to the 41st President of the United States is a dead giveaway, "aiming a Tec at George Bush, he's a sucker."

Quick to Back Down
A lot of people, those with their own agendas and then those with their own guilty conscience, have taken the title of Nas' upcoming album, Hip-Hop Is Dead, to be a big smack in the face of the southern rap scene. While Nas, now on numerous occasions, has denied this, people are still going to pick and choose their own drama. Part of what they will conveniently forget is that Nas has never shied away from reaching out and working with those on the bottom of the map, i.e., Da Backwudz, Cash Money, Devin the Dude, Jermaine Dupri, Ludacris, Master P, and Scarface. Even the poster boy for Atlanta's own recent rise, Lil Jon, has twice been a collaborator of Nas', the first during the early climb of goblet mania. That song, Quick to Back Down, though officially credited to the Bravehearts, showcases a rather raucous Nas, at home over Lil Jon's mosh pit-ready production and still basking in his post-Ether victory, "I'm a Braveheart veteran / And y'all already know who I'm better than."

Show Discipline
Speaking of Ether, Nas' menacing verse on Jadakiss' Show Discipline, from March 2001, should have hinted at what was to come that infamous December day. Although the hook borders on self-parody, the beat manages to find its own pace, that of a threatening creep. In turn, Nas serves up his own night-stalker flow, "Speech totally calm / Hold a dead rapper's dome in my palm." Of all the sides of Nas we've seen, nasty, arrogant, vulnerable, introspective, nostalgic, political, etc., perhaps the continually most interesting mood on the mic he's displayed over the years is this crypt-keeper character. This is Nas encompassing many of those aforementioned attitudes but taking them in a direction beyond the margins: murky, eerie, surreal, almost occult. It's where his imagery captures more than what most see and his pen acts as if a mystic guide, "Leave no prints on the toast / Played with Ouija boards, burned frankincense with a ghost."

The Braveheats f/ Lil Jon, Nas: Quick to Back Down
Cassidy f/ Nas, Quan: Can't Fade Me
E Money Bags f/ Horse, Nas: I Want It
Jadakiss f/ Nas: Show Discipline
Kool G Rap f/ Nas, White Boy: Number One with a Bullet

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Where Are They Now?

Everything about Where Are They Now is in memory of Hip-Hop, from the many old-school references to the very beat itself, a nod to Big Daddy Kane's Set It Off and a classic James Brown break. And if you want to see who Nas is referring to throughout, just click on the links provided.

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

Redhead Kingpin, Tim Dog, have you seen him?
Kwame, King T, or King Sun
Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud
Antoinette, Rob Base, never showing up
You seen Black Sheep, Group Home, Busy Bee?
Ask Ill and Al Skratch, "Where My Homiez?"
Leave it to y'all, these niggas left for dead
Last week my man swore he saw Special Ed
Rap is like a ghost town, real mystic
Like these folks never existed
They the reason that rap became addictive
Play the CD or wax and get lifted
I recommend when your kid turn ten
Let him hear Spice 1, made plenty noise
Positive K, Father MC, the Skinny Boys
Where are they now?

See, I remember them forever
The original Spinderella
Lakim Shabazz, Nine Double M, Fu-Schnickens
Buckshot, Finesse and Synquis
Who was the Rappin' Duke?
Dah-hahh, Silk Tymes Leather was cute
Body & Soul was Dee from Pump It Up's group
Oaktown 357, J.J. Fad too
Had pop hits and gold ropes
Where my man Young MC and Tone Loc?
Kriss Kross, the Boss, Divine Styler
Def Jef of course, let's break it down to
Mic Geronimo, Pharcyde, and Coolio
I heard Craig Mack back in the studio
Have you seen these lost MC's?
Funky Four Plus One, Force M.D.'s
Miss Melodie, I hope she packing a bankroll
As well as Educated Rapper, Ice, and Kangol
Shante, she from around my way, yo
EPMD, K Solo, where are they now?

Nas: Where Are They Now?
BONUS: Big Daddy Kane: Set It Off
BONUS: James Brown: Get Involved
BONUS: Nas: Talks About Where Are They Now

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Villain State of Minds

If Nas Will Prevail gives you a sense of the early stages of Illmatic, then I'm A Villain is essentially the genesis story of Nasty Nas altogether. By all accounts, this is the very first solo studio song Nas ever recorded, especially highlighted by the heavy James Brown production, a sign of the times of the Golden Era courtesy of Large Professor, and the strong G Rap inflections in Nas' voice. It also served as an early draft for what would later become NY State of Mind. And just as that classic did, I'm A Villain captures all sides of the Illmatic narrative quite well: paranoid, poetic, brash, and QB all the way.

The point above, about the influence of Kool G Rap on Nas' early career, is one that often gets overlooked. Born as well in Queens, New York, everything from Nas' polysyllabic rhyme scheme to his crime-filled story raps can be traced back to the one Mr. Giancana. And while Nas certainly had other inspirations and his own innovations, I'm A Villain best epitomizes the influence left by his borough-mate. Here you have the quick-draw lyrical delivery ("I'm out to kill / Like Navy Seals / I'm crazy ill / And what I can't do my .380 will"), the hard-edged content ("At every block party / I try to catch a body"), and even that patented G Rap misogyny ("Stripping mad hoes and kick 'em to the side"). Nas' voice also sounds as if intentionally deepened to hang with the vets of the mic. With all this in mind, Nas trying to come off as though the baddest gunslinger in the entire Wild West, you could say he was pumping up his chest something extra, not yet comfortable in his own skin, with his own voice. Fortunately, this would all be smoothed out by the time Illmatic rolled around.

Now this is not at all to bash Nas' beginner steps, for even as just a teenager, cutting his chipped tooth on record, there is still something profound and unique in his rhymes, specifically in I'm A Villain's anti-government-charged second verse. You have to remember that Nas is the MC who once touted kidnapping the president's wife without so much a plan. While that may not be the most poignant political statement ever, it does underscore the mind state of this anxiously combative project resident, who saw threats not only from all sides of the block but from the executive branch as well. On Villain particularly, Nas has the constant ring of cop patrols in his ear, the posture of an outlaw, and the spirit of a rebel to America:

I got beef with the president and still loving it
Tryna to make plans to overthrow the government
It won't work, because niggas don't believe enough
They'd rather stand on the corners and receive a cuff
Nas: I'm a Villain

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Nas Will Prevail

All three versions of Nas' It Ain't Hard To Tell are classic in their own right.

The rendition most know is the important early single from Illmatic, where Large Professor and Nas managed to cook up an anthem in just over three minutes and without a standard refrain. Here Nas references everything Greek mythology to 1980's Sylvester Stallone movie work to an Iranian professional wrestler, the sum total of these points to prove, "I'm dope, as are my rhymes." For his part, Large Pro most notably samples Michael Jackson's Human Nature to create the da-da-da that's as close to a conventional hook as It Ain't Hard To Tell offers. The production's further interesting, because, at one time, there's multiple vocals on top of each other, the blow of a horn, and a synthesizer, and then, all at once, in the middle of the verse even, the track's drums and bass are isolated. All in all, it's one of the album's lighter, more brief moments, but just as memorable as any throughout its forty minutes.

The second classic-status song in this trilogy is actually the original. Known as Nas Will Prevail and passed around primarily through the bootleg circuit, it's Nas plus Large Professor plus Human Nature once more. However, this edition clocks in at about ninety seconds longer with extended verses that the label must have deemed too "involved" for radio consumption. Moreover, there's no vocal sample to catch on to and the beat is a bit more subdued. On the other hand, Nas' rap, though changed up some, fits into the same genre of MC'ing: brag-heavy and simile-centered.

Interestingly enough, while both similes and brags are found throughout Illmatic and the whole of Nas' catalog, they have never been a real staple of his career. But it seems as if early Nas, the one found especially on Live at the Barbeque and Back to the Grill, Halftime and here was more "like"-minded and boastful, in the spirit of a punchline rapper almost. In fact, using "like" to test for the appearance of similes, in doing a search on Illmatic's nine songs, plus Nas Will Prevail, you can see the change in his style from 1992's Halftime days to later 20th birthdays (of course, Life's A Bitch, for example, is only one verse compared to Prevail's three, but the ratio is still clear):

Number of Appearances of the Word "Like" on Illmatic:

  • Memory Lane: 0
  • Life's A Bitch: 2
  • Represent: 2
  • One Time 4 For Your Mind: 2
  • The World Is Yours: 4
  • One Love: 5*
  • NY State of Mind: 7**
  • Halftime: 9
  • It Ain't Hard To Tell: 14
  • Nas Will Prevail: 18

  • This is not to suggest that the tracks with a high count of like's are somehow less lyrically credible than the rest, however, they do point to the evolution of Nas' rhymes.

    The final It Ain't Hard To Tell entry maintains those same rhymes but features a remixed production look from Large Professor, and a genius bit of sampling. Interestingly enough, here the beat is more straightforward than its predecessors and actually comes equipped with an identifiable and quite notable hook. This hook is propelled by the same near-shriek found on Illmatic and the call of "it ain't hard to tell", but the real winner comes next, with what sounds like a sample saying, "Nas is the king of the disco." In reality, LP just took a Biz Markie line from Nobody Beats The Biz and cut "recognized as the king of disco" so that it came off as tailor-made for the QB MC. It's a master move in a series that offered many such examples.

    Nas: It Ain't Hard To Tell
    Nas: It Ain't Hard To Tell (Large Professor remix)
    Nas: Nas Will Prevail
    BONUS: Biz Markie: Nobody Beats The Biz
    BONUS: Michael Jackson: Human Nature

    *Of the appearances of "like" on One Love, only two are traditional similes, i.e., Nas also relies on the word to note resemblance between similar objects and in the informal way people use it to fill pauses in speech.

    **We know that NY State of Mind itself is, in part, a combination of two early-on tracks, I'm A Villain and Just Another Day In The Projects.

    Sunday, November 12, 2006

    Blood Diamond

    It looks like Leonardo DiCaprio is a Hip-Hop head.

    The common link between the prominent appearance of Thief's Theme in Martin Scorsese's The Departed and Nas doing a track for the upcoming film Blood Diamond is that aforementioned A-List actor. Subsequently, just as the Street's Disciple standout was the sole rap song featured throughout The Departed, Nas popping up, seemingly out of the blue, on the soundtrack to Blood Diamond is another good look for the rapper and movie alike. On one hand, now Blood Diamond, and the issue central to its story, the infamous diamond trade in Africa, will likely connect with the otherwise-elsewhere rap music audience, while Nas too gets to broaden his listenership, and flex his creative muscle as well.

    Blood Diamond is released in US theaters on December 8th.

    They dug me out the soil in the mines of the motherland
    Now I'm misplaced, one hand to another hand
    Illegal smuggling, people struggling
    Wish they could just throw me back in the mud again
    Yeah, guess that's how we got here
    Slave trade then the diamond trade
    Every child's afraid
    When his mother and father get sprayed
    Forced in the army, young killer birgade
    Gets a new name and then they give his nose glue
    Till his mind can't take what he's going through
    Looking in that dirt for that ice so blue
    Then the royal family, the ice goes to
    And this thing has to change
    Feeling half-ashamed
    As I rap with my platinum chain
    When you shop for a gift for me, you think about the misery?
    The same way we made apartheid history
    We can do the same thing to the conflict ice
    But everybody wanna shine, right?

    Everybody wants Heaven but nobody wants dead
    Everybody wants diamonds without the bloodshed
    Everybody wants Heaven but nobody wants dead
    Everybody wants diamonds without the bloodshed
    They want the shine on 'em

    My VVS glimmers on my chest
    200-thou-encrusted watch on my wrist
    I wonder how people starve to death
    When God bless the land that lacks the harvest
    The stone's are quality, but they homes are poverty
    And the whole world ignores the robbery
    Bought my girl pretty rocks when she's mad at me
    Tear-drop shapped, uh, perfect clarity
    In shock, so many are killed annually
    'Cause of greed, lust, and pure vanity
    Stop talking and do something about it
    Every holiday season, jewelry stores crowded
    Kids snatched from their homes, mutilated alive
    Husbands seperated from wives, keep a Jesus piece to be fly
    But back in the day there was a time when they called us shine

    Nas: Shine On 'Em (Blood Diamond)

    Black Republican

    "Let's go, Esco."

    I think if you know the words to a rap song, that generally means the song had a noticeable effect on you. If you know the track's ad-libs, that means you heard it again and again, hopefully for good reason. If you know what one rapper said at a concert to another rapper, pretty much to the point of memorization, even though that concert took place on the other side of the country when you were at work one Thursday night, chances are that's history.

    In 2001, Jay-Z took to the Summer Jam stage to set off a lyrical beef with the rapper Nas that quickly became one of the most influential on-record feuds in all of Hip-Hop. Then, four years later, on that October night of last year, Jay-Z was joined on stage by Nas. The immediate surge of energy felt throughout the venue quickly spread via cell phone and soon enough video, until the pairing of these two heavyweights had taken over rap music once more. While it remains to be seen if the impact of their newly-formed alliance will measure up to the impression left by their past rivalry, for whatever concerts or interviews the two have held together, ultimately, the collaboration with the most hope and interest will always be the music. Today, we get our first glimpse of what that music holds.

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

    I feel like a black militant taking over the government
    Can't turn my back on the hood, too much love for them
    Can't clean my act up for good, too much thug in him
    Probably end up back in the hood, I'm like, "fuck it then"

    I'm back in the hood, they like, "hey Nas"
    Blowing on purp', reflecting on they lives
    Couple of Fat Cat's, couple of AI's
    Dreaming of fly shit instead of them gray skies
    Gray 5's, hate guys wishing our reign dies
    Pitch, sling pies, and niggas they sing, why?
    Guess they ain't strong enough to handle their jail time
    Weak minds, keep trying, follow the street signs
    I'm standing on the roof of my building
    I'm feeling - the whirlwind of beef, I inhale it
    Just like an acrobat ready to hurl myself though the hoops of fire
    Sipping 80 proof, bulletproof under my attire
    Could it be the forces of darkness against hood angels of good
    That form street politics - makes a sweet honest kid
    Turn illegal for commerce - to get his feet out of them Converse
    That's my word

    Nas f/ Jay-Z: Black Republican
    BONUS: Carmine Coppola: Murder of Don Fanucci

    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    Five Fingers of Miscellanea

    Black Stacey (remix)
    At Nas' 2004 Central Park concert, slam poet Saul Williams helped open the show. In return, when it came time for a remix to Williams' Black Stacey single, Nas was happy to accommodate. The song is aimed at those, particularly blacks, who wear a public mask to cover up their insecurities, i.e. that front many put on to pretend they're something not, simply because it may be expected of them. This then is specifically tied to a criticism of rappers, as Williams recites, "share your essence with us, 'cause everything about you couldn't be rugged and rough." For the remix, Nas answers that call appropriately. His verse is still filled with the palm trees, Dom Perignon, and platinum lifestyle that Black Stacey seems to rally against, but as his rap tells the story of being discriminated upon by a black flight attendant, two points are made: 1) if your skin is one color and your money another, the stack still isn't going to get you accepted by everyone; 2) by puckering up to his boss and refusing a brother, the flight attendant himself is wearing a mask of great consequence.

    The Cross (9th Wonder remix)
    Part of the marketing strategy for Jay-Z's The Black Album was to make the LP's acapellas widely available and then encourage everyone from five-figure beatmakers to Soundclick producers to remix the entire thing. With these new renditions pouring in for nearly two years, TBA was able to stay a successful topic of conversation well beyond its initial release. However, it wasn't as if the ROC brain trust was doing anything too revolutionary, for, just one year prior, Nas' God's Son had been given much the same treatment. (Nas himself wasn't first either, but he certainly seemed to revitalize the idea.) One of the most notable of these remix projects was helmed by Little Brother's 9th Wonder, whose sample-heavy production was a prayer answered for those disgruntled with Nas' increasingly mundane beat selection. While the end result in some instances was too soft, 9th's makeover of the formerly-clunky The Cross, for example, was a perfect blend of soul and head nod.

    Everyday Thing
    Even if Lost Tapes 2 or 3 or 4 . . . ever do come out, chances are there will still be a decent amount of unreleased Nas material lying around, simply because not everything would be feasible to put out. Some songs may be caught by sampling issues, others may have featured guests that could hold up the process, while even more could just be too "minor" to fuss over. One such lost track that most likely will never see the light of a record store is Everyday Thing. Produced by Dr. Dre, who calls upon a gorgeous Minnie Ripperton sample (Inside My Love), it also features a rap from the legendary producer. Joining him then are Nas and Nature, the two unfortunately sporting recycled verses. Because of all of this, we know Everyday Thing is a Firm-era outtake that's probably destined to be no more than that.

    If I Ruled The World (live)
    When Nas took to the Radio City Music Hall stage earlier this year, he was backed by the Roots; after the show, he told MTV, "I never had a band behind me before, so working with the Roots on that show was a first for me on a concert level." Well, blame it on being caught in the moment or a decade's worth of weed, but this was actually not the first time Nas had worked a concert with a live band. Back in 1996, with his If I Ruled The World quickly moving its way to classic status and The Fugees also enjoying their own sophomore album success, Nas was invited by Lauryn Hill and the gang for a performance at Germany's New Pop Festival. Beyond being the actual first Nas + band experience, listening to this live version of If I Ruled The World also points to a time when the rapper's on-stage breath control hadn't become so blunted by reality.

    Soundtrack to the Streets
    If you know your history, you know that in the early days of Hip-Hop the DJ was the star and the MC was no more than a mere hypeman. While that has definitely changed in the many years since, the DJ remains an integral part of the culture. In a sense, as a choice spin or a notable mixtape cut can change a career in a minute, they are the gatekeepers of the music. One such prestigious DJ, Kid Capri, was even able to exert his influence everywhere from early block parties to the mixtape circuit (52 Beats, 10/9/89) and still remain relevant in the 90's; subsequently, he pulled some of rap's biggest names together (Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Big Pun, The Lox, etc.) for a 1998 compilation album, Soundtrack to the Streets. Here Nas was given the title track duties:

    Spit -- cartridges at so-called hard ni-ggas
    You get -- sparked and hit, held as hostages
    You know how the mobsters is from the heart of the Bridge
    We just started getting dough, yo, pardon the kid
    The Firm: Everyday Thing
    Kid Capri f/ Nas: Soundtrack to the Streets
    Nas: The Cross (9th Wonder remix)
    Nas f/ Refugee Camp: If I Ruled The World (live)
    Saul Williams f/ Nas: Black Stacey (remix)

    Monday, November 06, 2006

    One Blood (remix)

    What did I say about The Game? He may not be the most graceful rapper ever, but he's got balls where others have Chris Brown duets, and respect for Hip-Hop's history where others have only short-term memories. Accordingly, the first single from his all-important sophomore album, Doctor's Advocate, wasn't just some generic copy and paste copout. It was One Blood, a solid street look, a real left turn for someone in his position. Now, recalling The Luniz's 5 On It, he's remixed One Blood in grand posse cut fashion, with more than twenty rappers on board--Nas included.

    Game got at me about the remix, it's an honor, my nigga
    I made rap one blood, that's why I'm signing with Jigga???
    I got rappers getting mad at me
    I got these new jack rappers tryna clap at me
    I got these corny wannabe diss song kings
    On the radio talking about how they gon' spray or take me away
    But I'm the true living legend, I'm not to be questioned
    Have your whole hood holler ??? about my profession

    The Game f/ Hip-Hop: One Blood (remix)

    *NOTE: Lyrics?--Fletch

    Sunday, November 05, 2006

    Brolic with Knowledge

    With 1st Class now on record shelves, while fans should have rejoiced over Large Professor finally having an official product on the market, after years and years of toiling in the ranks of the unreleased, it wasn't as if everything had played out to some perfect ending. The LP was still absent, and what ended up in stores, in its place, hardly proved to be any consolation. In the cruel way the industry can be at times, the masterpiece had been kept in the vaults, while the too-little-too-late effort was the project that actually got a fair deal. Moreover, those spots where 1st Class did hold its own were as Large Professor let another MC hold the mic, e.g. Nas on Stay Chisel.

    The version of Stay Chisel appearing on 1st Class features the Queens duo delivering one verse each over a medium-paced beat. It's a concept track, playing to the idea of "knowledge is power", where, accordingly, Nas defines true strength less by physical prowess and more so by one's own intelligence:

    Mental calisthenics got my mind stretching, then I release it
    Have my whole frame bulging under diamond pieces
    Take the weight of the world on my shoulders, I hold it
    So I consume most the pain for my niggas I roll with
    Then Large Pro comes in and gets out quickly, leaving the song's length at just over two-and-a-half-minutes, good but not remarkable. Fortunately, another Stay Chisel exists, with Nas on a solo mission, three verses long, unreleased, and entirely more notable.

    With these two additional verses at his disposal, Nas is able to flush out the metaphor: now a loyal crew is akin to a trusty workout partner, and a balanced diet is used to demonstrate the need for a balanced lyrical approach, "reduce fat rap, no calories in my mentality." Elsewhere, he espouses mental focus ("keep your chest up / eyes straight to the center") and even preaches the wonders of wheat bread. But the most interesting portion here may be the names Nas checks. Typically, rap songs will scroll though a list of fashion labels, big time moguls, movie stars bad asses, and the like. Yet, while Nas does mention Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger to explain a kind of muscular clout, he also acknowledges such African-American pioneers, intellectuals, and leaders as James Baldwin, John Hope Franklin, W.E.B. Du Bois, John Chavis, Angela Davis, and Assata Shakur. However, the most fitting individual referenced is Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the once-middleweight contender who was wrongly convicted of murder and had to rely on inner toughness to outlast an erroneous prison sentence.

    Nas: Stay Chisel

    Friday, November 03, 2006

    One Plus One

    The days of the self-made star are done. Look around from Hollywood to 106 & Park, and though the big names in music, movies, and television might have manufactured some of their own hustle, they didn't get there completely by themselves. Maybe it was a mentor, a DJ, a casting agent, whoever, but chances are someone along the line gave them that all-important first push. For Nas, that person is without a doubt Large Professor (himself a product of Paul C's good graces). And although Large Pro would be absent during much of Nas' most commercially successful times, he was behind Illmatic, he was behind the music that got Nas to the point of Illmatic, and, for that, his credit is unquestionable.

    Beyond producing a third of Illmatic's tracks and its first two singles, it was Large Professor, a fellow Queens native, who blew breath into the Nastiest lungs, supplying the beats and studio time for Nas' earliest recordings. Afterwards, as one third of Main Source, he would give Nas his first exposure, out of the blue, as this unknown entity, on the now legendary posse cut Live at the Barbeque, "I was trapped in a cage and let out by the Main Source." Nas' verse quickly achieved classic status and soon won over the ears of MC Serch, who would later get Nas a record deal and oversee the making of Illmatic. And while Serch's great involvement here shouldn't be ignored, it was truly the work put in by Extra P that put Nas on.

    However, it's not as though Large Professor's legacy rests merely on making Nas known. In fact, before there was ever any word of 1994's Second Coming, it was the MC's involved in that previous line of Hip-Hop lyricism, those like Rakim and Kool G Rap, who Large Pro was also working with--all while still attending high school no less. And even when he wasn't laying down the initial round of production for rappers, his remix résumé proved to be just as extensive and notable, e.g. tracks with Common Sense, Gang Starr, Organized Konfusion, and Slick Rick. What's more, his reputation would have only further been bolstered if his 1995 solo album, The LP, had actually come out back in 1995.

    Being signed to Geffen Records was Large Professor's first bad break. Known primarily for putting out John Lennon's solo work and the likes of Whitesnake and Guns N' Roses, Geffen started signing Hip-Hop acts as the genre demonstrated staying power. However, this meant that the label was still kind of new and naive as to how to handle and market these rappers. They knew they could get some sales if they had Bart Simpson do Deep, Deep Trouble and that they could tap into the already-established Wu-Tang fanbase with GZA's Liquid Swords, but Large Professor must have been, and apparently was, an enigma. So while two singles, IJUSWANNACHILL and The Mad Scientist, were released and the rapper / producer, in a guest appearance on ATCQ's Keep It Rollin', had implored, "Queens represent, buy the album when I drop it", no such album ever made it out.

    A bootleg was eventually passed around, and when 1st Class, Large Pro's too-long-in-the-making 2002 solo debut with all new material, did get released, it was accompanied by a promotional version of The LP, in a plain jewel case like a seven-year time capsule. And although this promo copy was still missing some previously bootlegged material, such as Queens Lounge, no matter how delayed, incomplete, or anti-climatic it might have been, it at least came in good sound and with a number of gems that time and Geffen had once seemed to forget. A duet with Nas, One Plus One, perhaps best epitomized the overlooked-but-not-unheralded quality of the work.

    Recorded after Illmatic and before It Was Written, One Plus One features Nas at a crossroads between his Nasty and Esco personas. It's him celebrating a bright lights lifestyle, "Avirex gortex wet with fly jewelry", while the very same lifestyle leaves him depressed, "feeling slight chills finding out that rich niggas have to write wills." Overall though, Nas' words do favor this latter somber tone, thanks, in part, to the rather melancholy production on display. For instance, the track's opening isolated clangs are reminiscent of a dawn-hour worker whose only company is the early morning echo. Match this with some understated keys and consistent drums, and you'll see why heads continually plead for more Nas-Large Pro collaborations. On the mic as well, though he seems to always be thought of for beats first and then ignored in favor of whatever guests he's joined by, with a strong, clear voice and a quick rhyme scheme, Large Professor efficiently holds his own. It was just Geffen that never did their job.

    Rebel To America: Large Professor collection
    Includes: Common Sense: Resurrection '95; Eric B & Rakim: No Omega; Gang Starr: Gotta Get Over (Large Professor remix); Kool G. Rap f/ Ant Live, Freddie Foxxx, Large Professor: Money In The Bank; Large Professor: IJUSWANNACHILL; Large Professor: The Mad Scientist; Large Professor: Queens Lounge; Large Professor f/ Nas: One Plus One; Organized Konfusion: Stress (Large Professor remix); Slick Rick: It's a Boy (Large Professor remix); A Tribe Called Quest f/ Large Professor: Keep It Rollin'