MC’s that are 40+ are often expected to make some meaningful transitions in their later years. It’s to be assumed that, at this point, what they have left to spew is lesson-filled raps that capture their progression as a veteran in this young man’s sport. JAY Z bit the bullet and made “30 Something,” which was his attempt to show us he’d come of age- that he can successfully move from Roc jeans and S. Dot’s to linen shorts and chancletas. Though he wasn’t successful initially, this position of comfortability is more accepted now.
Nas has been in a weird place. On 2012’s Life Is Good, he opened up as a more vulnerable artist who was dealing with the aftermath of heartache in the public eye. Keeping track of his development since then has been damn-near impossible. But when he finally showed up on the amply titled “Nas Album Done,” it would be another 2 years before we even heard it. NASIR, the rapper’s twelve studio album arrives by way of Kanye West, who handled production, and it’s a lean 7-track offering that doesn’t choose to let us in any further. Throughout the 27 minutes, Nas chooses instead to reel fans in with Kanye’s soulful chops and as a result his usually potent voice is only along for the ride and not in control of it.
The flashes of great offerings are there. The opener “Not For Radio” is a testament to the artist we’ve known and loved. It features G.O.O.D Music’s new signee 070 Shake, and Puff Daddy with that blissful arrogance we love—”Ay yo we ain’t posin’ for no pictures in 2018. Candid shit only. Scared motherfuckers,” Puff screams on the opener. Nas uses the disruptive production to let off some political steam; “to Catholics, Moors and Masons (motherfuckers!) John Hanson was not the first black pres to make it. Abe Lincoln did not free the enslaved progress was made ’cause we forced the proclamation. (Fuck your proclamation!).” This is the lyrical space Nas has flourished in over the years.
“Cops Shot the Kid” features a piercing sample of Slick Rick’s “Children Story.” The song focuses on police brutality toward the African-American youth, and though this is an important message, the feature of Kanye West takes away from some of its glory. Where Nas empathizes with the wrongful deaths, Ye tries to as well—unfortunately, the echo of his “slavery sounds like a choice” comment drowns out his intent here. “White Label” is the first showing of the higher class excellence Nas has began to excel with later in his career. “Stumble through customs, coppin’ Cubans at the Duty Free. Layin’ on the most expensive beds, still I’m losin’ sleep,” he raps. Where there’s a high in his experiences, he never shies away from the lows. Although “Bonjour” is his most lavish outing, the song suffers from some of his most cringy bars: “How many girls pre-bate right before they date. So she can have restraint? She still get slayed,” he spews. Oh and did he really say “Beat it, thriller jacket”? Deep sigh. “Everything” takes us out of vacation mode, and into deeper issues. With help from The-Dream and Kanye West, the song doesn’t sound like a Nas entity. “If I had everything, everything/I could change anything,” Kanye sings—Its an empty promise that isn’t nearly as captivating as the good-deed imagery of “If I Ruled The World.”
The excellent production of “Adam & Eve” makes it hard to fail, and Nas surely delivers. It is here that as an accomplished veteran, he feels comfortable with exuding his confidence, and by the time “Simple Things,” the album’s closer comes around, he’s more settled into how he’s perceived, and less about pleasing us anymore. “But I’m more than the surface, want me to sound like every song on the top 40, I’m not for you, you not for me, you bore me,” he slurs on the closer.
Life Is Good peeled back a vulnerable layer to Nas that NASIR should feel ashamed for overlooking—and we could probably blame Kanye West for that. Where it’s predecessor showed us Nas as more than just a brilliant wordsmith, he decides to blend in this time—the only problem is his legacy demands more. After the recent allegations from his ex-wife Kelis of abuse during their marriage, I initially pictured 4:44-level of transparency from him. Yet and still, there’s no reason for an artist of Nas’ caliber to be wedged into a 5-week roll-out of G.O.O.D Music albums. But as with most rappers in their 40’s, they’d like to control their own narrative. “I just want my kids to have the same peace I’m blessed with,” he says before the album’s abrupt conclusion. However, as the smoke settles from his Cuban cigar as I imagine him slouched in a plush leather chair somewhere, he should consider leaving that layer peeled back as he did in 2012—at least that made for an outing with depth and distinction.