July 23, 2009

Reader Review: Nas - Untitled (July 11, 2008)



(I sure seem to be taking my sweet time with the Nas catalog, so today Ace decided to skip the line and jump straight to his most recent album, the one which is currently Untitled but everyone knows by its earlier, much more controversial name, a topic which I will discuss in much more detail whenever I finally get to it. Let's see his take on the project.)

The catalog of Nas has always been a head-scratcher to the average hip hop fan. Many complain about his willingness to cross over, his bad ear for beats, his shock value titles as of late (such as Hip Hop Is Dead and...well, the album I'm writing about), and how most of his best songs remain officially unreleased. But that's neither here nor there. Before its release, the Untitled album had been one of the most awaited and controversial albums of his career. His DJ Green Lantern-assisted The N----r Tape left his fans salivating for the main course.

So was Nasir Jones able to deliver? Let's find out.

1. QUEENS GET THE MONEY
Untitled starts off with a simple and menacing beat by New Orleans rapper/producer(and artist bubbling under the radar) Jay Electronica. Nas seems to be as hungry as ever, with lines like "Queens get the money, n----s still screamin', paper chasin/while presidential candidates are planning wars with other nations". He even touches on his evolution as a rapper and how he won't ever be the same guy who recorded Illmatic: "Talkin' that 'Nas fell off with rhyming/ he rather floss with diamonds'/ they pray, 'please God, let him spit that Uzi in the army jacket lining'.”

2. YOU CAN'T STOP US NOW (FEAT EBAN THOMAS & THE LAST POETS)
This second track sounded familiar to many, as it samples a Whatnauts song (“Message From A Blackman”) that had already been used by the likes of MF Doom, Ill Bill, and, most recently, The RZA (on the similarly titled “You Can't Stop Me Now” from Digi Snacks). Nas uses the instrumental to discuss the power of his people, their history, and how they have been repressed. This is a pretty powerful track, featuring some spoken word poetry between the verses coming from The Last Poets.

3. BREATHE
This was a very laid back track. It's not as focused as the other tracks on Untitled, yet it still works.

4. MAKE THE WORLD GO ROUND (FEAT THE GAME & CHRIS BROWN)
This track gets way too much criticism for what it is. Sure, it's about material possessions, but its lyrics are top notch, and, dare I say it, (convicted domestic abuser) Chris Brown doesn't do a half bad job. The beat seems very commercial, but it fits the theme nicely. The Game doesn't disappoint either; he seems to really step up his game for Nas.

5. HERO (FEAT KERI HILSON)
Polow Da Don's beat creates a sound within the proportions of a street anthem, and Nas manages to fit it perfectly. The third verse is what makes this song, with bars that discuss his current situation and his view on it: "It's universal apartheid/ I'm hog tied/ the corporate side/ blockin' y'all from going to stores and buying it".

6. AMERICA
Nas vividly describes his come ups and the facade that is...America. The track sounds very R&B-ish and might lead more people to believe Nas can't choose a beat for shit, but for rappers such as Nas, the beat is only a backdrop for his story. Very controversial and a great listen. (I call bullshit on that statement, but longtime readers already knew I would: quit dismissing the beat as less important than the lyrics, folks! The two elements are equally important: nobody buys music to listen to just the words; if they did, spoken word albums would be multi-platinum best sellers.)

7. SLY FOX
Did I say that last track was controversial? Oh my, was I wrong. Of all targets (this one pretty deserving, if I say so myself), Nas goes after the Fox News Channel and all of their bullshittery. (That last word was my addition; I thought it both looked funny and described the channel's shenanigans perfectly.) If you're not a fan of Faux News, you'll already agree with all of the man's views, but that doesn't mean they're not true.

8. TESTIFY
A track where Nas asks if the fans who buy his music will actually stand for his point of views. (My guess is: no.) I wouldn't skip this one, but some will think the beat is too mellow . The lyrics are a stinger, though.

9. N.*.*.*.*.R. (THE SLAVE AND THE MASTER)
The theme of this album, conveniently rolled up into one song, with a great backdrop by DJ Toomp. Nas talks about life in the ghetto with vivid detail and how his people have been cheated and are no longer on top, as they were back in ancient times. "In the land of the blind, the man with one eye is the king". Indeed.

10. UNTITLED (A/K/A LOUIS FARRAKHAN)
Nas depicts himself as a revolutionary (big shock) and points out that many revolutionaries have been prosecuted and/or killed. A very powerful track.

11. FRIED CHICKEN (FEAT BUSTA RHYMES)
Nas and Busta Rhymes use fried chicken as a metaphor for women and how they love them, and yet, they are so bad for them. A very creative track, unless you tend to take things in a literal sense; in that case, you may get pissed that they seem to validating a stereotype. Features a banging instrumental by Mark Ronson.

12. PROJECT ROACH (FEAT THE LAST POETS)
Nas lives life as a roach and explains the similarities between the bugs and his people, with more spoken word poetry by the Last Poets. Good, but very short.

13. Y'ALL MY N----S
I was wrong about "N.*.*.*.*.R.": that was a powerful track, but this song pretty much epitomizes the album. The track discusses the stereotypes of a black person and what would "authenticate his n----rness". It also displays other uses of the word and how people view his race.

14. WE'RE NOT ALONE (FEAT MYKEL)
Features a very soulful hook sung by Mykel. The track continues the theme set by the rest of Untitled,and yet also finds time to talk about topics such as UFO's and global warming. (I made it sound stranger than it truly is: Nas just happens to touch on whatever's on his mind.) The spoken word outro by Nas is also pretty touching.

15. BLACK PRESIDENT
Not an ode to Barack Obama, but a song that analyzes his campaign,what can change with his presidency and what Obama himself must be feeling during the campaign. This is probably the most sincere song about Obama I've heard. This track actually means something, while other rappers started bragging about their “Black President” because it became a goddamn trend. "But on a positive side/ I think Obama provides/ hope/ and challenges minds of all races and colors to erase the hate/ so many political snakes/ we in need of a break." So true.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Untitled isn't in my top five or anything, but I'm gonna turn off every reader right here but saying that it is a classic disc in its own right. The album might not have as many classic beats as Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... (an album clearly not by Nas, although he appeared on it) or the intricate lyrics of Illmatic, but it is a very mature and thoughtful album that strays far from being ignorant or being controversial for the sake of album sales. This album is sincere all the way and is one of the best (released) works in the career of Nas.

BUY OR BURN?: You should really buy this album. This was the only CD I actually bought in 2008, and that says a lot.

BEST TRACKS: “Queens Get The Money”; “Hero”; “Sly Fox”; “N.*.*.*.*.R.”; “Untitled”; “Black President”

- Ace

(Be sure to leave your comments below, and if you have something to say about your favorite album, or you just want to have as many people as possible give it a listen, be sure to hit me up at the e-mail address in the top right.)

19 comments:

  1. AnonymousJuly 23, 2009

    Interesting review and thank god somebody has the decency to review it.

    Maybe it's me but the review seemed a bit hasty and Make The World Go Round is terrible but on the whole good review.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I ranked this the best album of '08, which it deserves. One of Nas' most solid albums overall, with street poetics and social commentary that is lacking in hip-hop.

    Very dope read, Ace.

    Peace Max n the rest!

    ReplyDelete
  3. AnonymousJuly 23, 2009

    are there any reader reviews where they don't like the album?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Im so sorry but make the world go round is so damn bad...

    ReplyDelete
  5. AnonymousJuly 23, 2009

    You're an idiot. This album is terrible.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is a solid album. Its way better than anything Jay-Z has released in the last 3 years.

    ReplyDelete
  7. AnonymousJuly 23, 2009

    For real for real, every Nas fan knows what its like when they hear that good. You heard it when you first heard Illmatic, when you heard Nas Is Like, Life We Chose, If I Ruled the World, Ether, and so on.

    Then, you felt almost, I don't know, embarrassed when you heard Not Going Back, Who Killed it, We're Not Alone, and so forth.

    Nas has his moments, not too many on this one.

    ReplyDelete
  8. one thing I never got about this album is- Fox 5 is the local fox entertainment/fluff news channel here in NY, and while it would seem that Nas namedropping it specifically because he's from queens makes perfect sense, it's not really part of the whole 24-hour-news conservative-biased nightmare that is fox, instead being more of a mindless entertainment channel. that's not a GOOD thing, but it pales in comparison to the evil of channel 44 or whatever it is in NY

    ReplyDelete
  9. Not a good album coceptually. And most of the beats suck. Only Hero and the first two tracks really bang.

    ReplyDelete
  10. AnonymousJuly 24, 2009

    crap album

    ReplyDelete
  11. GreenPoop!July 24, 2009

    I never understood why he left "What It Is" off the album. That song was such a banger, but I guess it didn't really fit the album concept.

    ReplyDelete
  12. AnonymousJuly 24, 2009

    make the world go round is a shitty track, having that women abusive brown singing the hook is a bad idea

    ReplyDelete
  13. AnonymousJuly 24, 2009

    First of all anyone saying this album sucks probably likes Kanye and all the other crap out. Only track I don't care for is Make the world go round. Also to the moron above...this song was done waaaay before Brown did that...

    ReplyDelete
  14. AnonymousJuly 27, 2009

    This album is great lyrically and conceptually, but God damn! Somebody, give Nas some BEATS, not that "background". After several listenings N****R is getting pretty dull. For example, on American Gangster Jay didn't say something special at all, but music there is so deep well-thought and produced you can easily deal with all that mafia bullshit...

    The Slave and The Master is the ONLY beat that really knocks, other beats are from wack to decent. Beatwise, the worst production since Nastradamus. If Nas wanted his message to be heard not only by fans he should pick up production worthy his verses.. Oh well, I know, we talk about this since IWW dropped...

    kormega

    ReplyDelete
  15. this album is terrible, hell this review is terrible

    ReplyDelete
  16. Yep... it's a classic album to anyone with an open mind. It shows the evolution of Nas.

    ReplyDelete
  17. AnonymousJune 12, 2012

    Sorry, but people who give Nas a pass for his beat selections and only praise his lyrics give off the impression that they don't listen to a lot of hip-hop. Yeah the guy is a great MC, but it's impossible to enjoy anything he's saying when the music is so damn boring. Yall My N***** and Queens Get The Money are very good though

    ReplyDelete
  18. Derek ClaptonJanuary 02, 2013

    A friend of mine worked in a record store when this album dropped. Apparently the employees received a special briefing on responding to customers requesting this album by its original title.

    Consumer: "Do you have the album N----R by Nas?"
    Proletariat: "Sorry, but we do not have any album by that title." We do however have Nas' newest album in stock and it is called 'Untitled,' would that possibly be what you're looking for?"

    ReplyDelete
  19. This album ain't a motherfuckin classic. Shit's a scattered mess.

    ReplyDelete