October 16, 2008

Nas - The Lost Tapes (September 24, 2002)


2002 was a busy year for Nas fans. After Columbia Records released Stillmatic, Nasir's fifth album, in 2001, its marketing department opted for a quick turnaround on album number six, God's Son. The label decided to keep the buzz from Stillmatic alive by releasing two Nas side projects in the summer and fall of 2002. The first, From Illmatic to Stillmatic: The Remixes, was an EP that consisted solely of previously released remixes from some of his singles. I never picked this one up because I already had the remix I was most interested in (the Large Professor version of "It Ain't Hard To Tell"), but, if it makes me feel better, nobody else picked this shit up, either. (It probably didn't help that the EP included the remix to "Street Dreams", which featured R. Kelly, which remixed the original track right out of the minds of anybody who was a fan of It Was Written, and the "Affirmative Action" remix, featuring the rest of the Firm members, did not feature Cormega, even though he was on the original album-only version.)

The label's second attempt to keep Nasir's name in the spotlight was far more successful. The Lost Tapes was a compilation of tracks that Nas recorded for I Am..., Nastradamus, and Stillmatic, but were inexplicably left off of the American releases. (Some of them were exclusive bonus tracks for European and Japanese markets.) A lot of these tracks had appeared previously online, thanks to rampant bootlegging, but The Lost Tapes provided fans with the "lost" songs in their fully mastered form, as originally intended, for the first time. Releasing a disc full of B-sides is certainly nothing new in any musical genre, but traditionally in hip hop, albums such as these tend not to happen thanks to the Interweb: even though I would love to see one, I don't ever really expect to find a Wu-Tang Clan B-sides compilation in stores anytime in the near future, because any song that they would consider putting on it is probably already on my hard drive anyway. (That Allah Mathematics Wu-Tang Clan & Friends Unreleased album doesn't count, as he purposefully withheld those tracks just to create an album full of "lost" songs.)

The Lost Tapes is frequently referred to as some of the most introspective work of Nasir's career. Lyrically, whomever frequently refers to this disc as such is absolutely fucking correct. Considering the fact that this disc is made up of leftovers, it makes sense that there are zero attempts at creating the next club banger, since successful songs would have made the cut of their respective album, and the poorly created versions would simply end up becoming "Nastradamus". The disc didn't sell tons of copies, but it earned Nas a lot of goodwill and respect, which carried him into the God's Son release three months later.

Onward!

1. DOO RAGS
What starts off as a peaceful track turns into a preachy sermon, which just so happened to turn me off completely. Musically, producer Precision's beat sounds alright, and Nas is his usual skilled self, but this track did nothing for me.

2. MY WAY
While I wasn't a fan of the Alchemist's simple beat and disliked the hook immensely (and not just because I cannot picture a young Nasir Jones ever breakdancing, although he's always come across as the introverted intellectual who would only act out in that manner in brief spurts, and almost always awkwardly), I liked the lyrics, especially in the second verse, where Nas describes, in great detail, the killing of his friend, "Ill" Will Graham, whose name would live on with every single album that Nas has ever and will ever release.

3. U GOTTA LOVE IT
Nas sounds borderline insane at the very beginning: hopefully he eventually realized that he was talking to a vocal sample, and not, in fact, the disembodied voices that live in his head and tell him when he should use the restroom. (The fact that he seemed to be expecting the sample to respond concerns me even more, though.) Had this song been left on Nastradamus, from which it was allegedly cut, it would not have made that shit stain of a disc any better, but it certainly wouldn't have hurt it any.

4. NOTHING LASTS FOREVER
Kind of confusing. The intro (and some of the verses) seem to indicate that the song is about believing in your dreams, as anything is achievable once you have a plan. However, the chorus is essentially telling listeners to enjoy that shit while it lasts, since it won't last forever. The hell?

5. NO IDEA'S ORIGINAL
So here's where Ghostface Killah went wrong: "No Idea's Original" uses the same Barry White sample as "The Watch", but on this particular track, the Alchemist re-did the music, instead of straight-up jacking the original song (as on the Ghostface cut). This is how you win the sample wars, people! (Or, at least, this is how you work a budget in the sample wars, so that you can win certain campaigns.) I'm not sure if this was his intention, but, as a way of proving his own theory correct, not one single idea from Nas during his long-ass verse is an original thought. Huh. Still sounds good, though.

6. BLAZE A 50
This shit is good. I can't imagine why this would have been left off of any Nas album. Okay, that's a lie: I can come up with two reasons. The beat itself kind of sounds like the instrumental to Mobb Deep's "Nighttime Vultures" played in reverse. I realize that it is actually a different beat, but that was my impression when I first heard it, and I haven't been able to shake it. Also, the ending of Nasir's tall tale kind of makes him look like an asshole (although his actions may be justifiable, depending on your own personal morals). Regardless, I repeat: this shit is good.

7. EVERYBODY'S CRAZY
Meh.

8. PURPLE
The music sounds too upbeat for the song. Not that Nas is in the middle of a self-hating mopefest or anything, but the beat should have been darker. It's still a pretty good track, though. Nas has to be the only rapper ever to speak on wax about how Puff Daddy fucked over Shyne in court, and still writes songs for the man. How weird is that?

9. DRUNK BY MYSELF
I ultimately really liked this song, but there are some ways that it could have been a tad bit better. First off, the title itself speaks volumes about depression, misery, and loneliness, so even though Nas touches on the subject with kid gloves, this topic of discussion needs a Jack Lemmon Days Of Wine and Roses level of darkness. The beat was dramatic enough, but it should have been kicked up by several notches, so that it would have more of an effect. Finally, the hook is a bit too wordy: I don't believe for a moment that someone who gets drunk as fuck by himself would be able to spit this type of chorus on regular intervals. (And yes, I realize that Nas himself isn't actually supposed to play drunk on this song: he isn't The Game, after all.) These all sound like criticisms, but I truly believe these small tweaks would make an already good song even better.

10. BLACK ZOMBIE
Well, there certainly aren't enough banks around to give your brother a loan now, Nas. Thanks, Bush administration, and your utter failure of an economic policy! But, of course, nobody will ever admit to fucking up, because this is America, dammit! Oh, the song? Other than Nasir's singing on the hook, it's really fucking good.

11. POPPA WAS A PLAYA
Nobody ever seems to write about how their father was a good man. The rap songs written about parents always tend to be about how Daddy was an asshole/an abuser/never there and how Mommy was a saint. You know, there are good fathers out there who raise their kids, love and respect their spouses, and provide for their family. To Nasir's credit, he reflects on both the good and the bad with his father, Olu Dara, but my original statement still rings true. Supposedly this track was actually produced by a then-unknown Kanye West, but is credited to Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie, Kanye's then-mentor (although he claims Chicago's own No I.D. as his influence) and Bad Boy Records in-house producer (and, for those of you counting, D-Dot's also known as The Madd Rapper, as if that matters in the context of this article). If this is among Kanye's early work, well, it certainly shows.

The following is an unlisted bonus track.

12. FETUS a/k/a FETUS (BELLY BUTTON WINDOW)
The "Belly Button Window" version of the title is easily one of the best song titles in Nasir's entire catalog. I have issues with Nas claiming that the second month in the womb was "the least most comfortable" (what the fuck is that supposed to mean?), but lyrically, this song is visually interesting, to say the least most.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Hopefully nobody's seeking out The Lost Tapes searching for cohesion (or coherence), as that would be impossible to find on an album comprised of random songs that were never intended to go together. However, The Lost Tapes was a gamble that paid off for both Nas and Columbia Records. It helps that Nas is one of the better lyricists in the genre, and some of his castoffs are better than your favorite rapper's album tracks. (Unless, of course, your favorite rapper is Nas). Not all of these songs are winners (Nasir's consistent issue with finding quality production that complement his rhymes still poses a problem), but when all of the ingredients click, the results are delicious. This is a much better album than Nastradamus, and that was supposed to be an actual album.

BUY OR BURN? If you haven't already picked this up, my two readers, than I suggest that you should. This shit is good. Not great (there's a reason some of these songs failed to make the final cuts on their respective albums), but good nonetheless.

BEST TRACKS: "Blaze A 50"; "Black Zombies"; "Purple"; "Drunk By Myself"

-Max

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8 comments:

  1. Mr. AquariusOctober 16, 2008

    I can never seem to find this in stores. I know I can get it online, but I like stores. Sounds like the type of Nas I would like. And reguarding the Wu-Tang B-Sides, is there really none put out? I could have sworn that my friend had one...

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  2. the original affirmative action remix had cormega on it, that version of the remix was on the street dreams single along with an extended version of street dreams, i guess they took his verse off for the remix album i wouldnt know since i havent listened to it, oh..blaze a 50 was on the international version of it was written, it was deemed to violent for the american public so was left off, but i still never understood how these great songs could be left off an album while "braveheart party" makes it

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  3. Found this used for 6 bucks a weekend ago, picked it up - liked it more than any other Nas release save Illmatic.

    "doo rags" and "purple" are AWESOME tracks...surprised you didnt like the former.

    good review.

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  4. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessNovember 10, 2008

    This is a great disc. Nas's outtakes shit on the whole industry. In your review, you only go so far as to say that it's better than Nastradamus but your recommendation of a purchase also seems to put it above It Was Written (which you recommended buying only if it was for 5 bucks or less), I Am... and Stillmatic. Is that a correct analysis of your opinion?

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  5. one more Nas review like this and I'll get off this blog, really.

    you should put your Jay bias into ass.

    kormega

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  6. AnonymousJune 13, 2010

    dude who are to criticize da bull work he sound insane whats so insane about what he say in u gotta love it he kill it ridiculously and drunk by myself a tad bit better man u hi homie overall albums freestyles nobody put words together like this dude sam from philly samgetit2000@yahoo.com tripping dog and thats AZ in background dudes don't know what the fuck y'all be talking about

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  7. yeah this is definately up there in nas's library, up there with stillmatic and it was written

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