May 29, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Nas - "Talk Of New York"




Artist: Nas
Title: "Talk Of New York"
Producer: Salaam Remi
Album: Car Show Tour (a compilation released by Funkmaster Flex) (2005)

Call me a contrarian asshole (that's not an open invitation, by the way), but after many years of exposure to this hip hop shit, I've figured out a thing or two, and one of those things is that the almighty DJ Premier is not the best producer for QB wunderkind Nasir "Nas" Jones.  While I, of course, loved Primo's musical talents on Nas's debut album Illmatic, and feel that anyone that doesn't love "N.Y. State Of Mind" needs to get the fuck off the blog immediately, the shit he sold to God's Son afterward suffered from the law of diminishing returns.  Sure, It Was Written's "I Gave You Power" is an expertly-written track, but from a musical standpoint, does it really hold the, um, power of "N.Y. State Of Mind"?  I personally love I Am...'s "Nas Is Like", but can anyone really list it in their list of favorite beats?  That's why all of this talk between the two men about a joint album sounds like sheer nonsense to me: I certainly wouldn't shy away from it, and if it actually happened I would be appropriately shocked, but I'm not holding my breath.  (I still want a Nas verse on a remix to PRhyme's "Wishin'", though.  That I must insist upon.)

Nah, the best producer Nas ever found to fit his needs was Salaam Remi.  Having come a long way from handling the boards for Ini Kamoze's unlikely hit single "Here Comes The Hotstepper", Remi found his way to Esco after helping resuscitate the career of the Fugees, who were dead in the water before he remixed their single "Nappy Heads" into something people might actually want to fucking listen to.  Their working relationship began with Stillmatic's "What Goes Around", but most people picked up on their natural chemistry around the time "Made You Look", an old-school-flavored showcase of dominance from God's Son, hit radio airwaves.  They have since recorded a bunch of other work, most of which tends to be hailed by music critics as among the best tracks on their respective albums.  Go ahead, list some of your favorite latter-day Nas songs: odds are at least two Salaam Remi productions will pop up.

That's what makes today's entry to this cumbersome mixtape so odd.  "Talk Of New York", which is an unequivocal I-won't-be-accepting-any-argument-here banger, doesn't appear on any Nas album, so odds are pretty good that a lot of you two may not be as familiar with it.  No, instead, Nasir charitably gave it to radio deejay Funkmaster Flex for a compilation project called Car Show Tour, an album I had completely forgotten even existed before I began my research for today's post.  (Unlike my entry in this series for "Loud Hangover", Flex absolutely had fuck-all to do with this song.)  Some of you might remember when it hit the Interweb ten years ago and might have wondered if it was some sort of lucid dream.  Well, here you go: it's real, and it's spectacular.

Salaam Remi's hard-hitting production (which, I cannot stress enough, knocks) sounds like a combination of riding in a dirty subway car late at night (more so than No I.D.'s beat on Nas's "Loco-Motive", from Life Is Good) and rushing through alleyways trying to make it to your home turf, The Warriors-style.  Even if you happened to be in a coma, the music on "Talk Of New York" would cause your pulse to quicken.  For his part, Nasir tackles one of his favorite subjects: an average day or two in the life while living in the greatest city on Earth.  As you can tell by my previous sentence, this is nowhere near the first time Nas Escobar has approached this topic: there are at least three different versions of "N.Y. State Of Mind" out there (the original, its sequel, and a third that goes by the title "Streets Of New York", which is technically an Alicia Keys song featuring Nas and Rakim Allah) alone.  But there's something about the subject that gets him into a zone, as he uses clipped descriptions to set the tone, trusting that the listener will be able to find his or her way around the prose.  

"Talk Of New York" is obviously a later Nas gem, at least when compared to his early work: his bars on the song I keep bringing up, "N.Y. State Of Mind", are paragraphs when compared to the economy of words he displays on here.  The end result is the same, though: you're dropped into the mindstate of a dude who loves every little thing about his city, even the not-so-great aspects (the numerous accounts of random violent attacks and arrests that he keeps dropping throughout his discography).  Even with the ominous threat of violence hanging in the air, Esco still operates as the self-appointed king of his city, "doing rounds of tequila soon as I touch down".  

"Talk Of New York" has been referred to as the flip side to "Empire State Of Mind", the huge single from Jay-Z and Alicia Keys (hey, there's her name again), but it really isn't.  For one, it came out four fucking years prior to Hova's entry, so immediately the comparison doesn't even make sense.  Also, "Empire State Of Mind" isn't all puppy dogs and rainbows: just because your mother loves it doesn't mean it's not dark.  But Nasir Jones had already cornered the market with poetic flourishes of the, if not especially seedy, the not-so-wholesome side of living in the City That Never Sleeps.  And also, this has a much better beat than "Empire State Of Mind".  In short, what you two need to be wishing for is a full-length Nas / Salaam Remi project.  I think most hip hop heads will agree with me there.

Do you agree or disagree with this selection?  Discuss below.

-Max

32 comments:

  1. AnonymousMay 29, 2015

    Never heard this before but this song is awesome. Salaam Remi's production on Life is Good is what made that my favorite album of Nas' since It Was Written, so yeah. Agree with you there.

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  2. AnonymousMay 29, 2015

    While I must agree that Salaam Remi has been very good to Nas's post-00s career, you are batshit crazy to prefer him to Primo's work with Nas pre-Nastradamus.
    Also, I thought we weren't going to compare Nas with Jay, just with himself. Don't you keep repeating that?

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    Replies
    1. Actually, what I wrote points out the ridiculousness of comparing the two. Anyone who read that and actually thinks I'm now suddenly comparing Nas to Jay needs to step back and take a breath. I still don't condone that shit: ain't a damn thing changed.

      Delete
  3. AnonymousMay 30, 2015

    Review the new A$AP rocky project?

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    Replies
    1. Not anytime soon. It's not my focus.

      Delete
    2. AnonymousJune 01, 2015

      Different Anonymous here. Wanted to second the request for A$AP.. sure it might not be your focus but you did review Kendrick's hyped album so I don't see how this is different! Pretty pleaseeeeeeeeee

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    3. Kendrick Lamar fits into my "West Coast" series. And before anyone points it out, the Wu-Tang posts are seen as exceptions, which I warned everyone about before I even started the series.

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    4. AnonymousJune 02, 2015

      DO IT FOR MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

      Delete
  4. AnonymousMay 30, 2015

    Great post, unlike that trash Illmatic review

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    Replies
    1. Loving the backhanded compliments.

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  5. AnonymousMay 31, 2015

    "Sure, It Was Written's "I Gave You Power" is an expertly-written track, but from a musical standpoint, does it really hold the, um, power of "N.Y. State Of Mind"?" - Max

    Why YES max, Yes it does.. matter of fact, I gave you power is the better track. In fact, It was written is by far the better LP. You're just getting very tasteless in your old age

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    Replies
    1. I cannot condone the idea that It Was Written is considered in any circles to be better than Illmatic. And "N.Y. State Of Mind" is the better package, although I will concede that Nas's pen on "I Gave You Power" was sharper due to experience.

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    2. AnonymousJune 01, 2015

      what makes It was Written better? The bland, overdone mafioso theme? The fact that half the songs are crap? The long-ass intro? The appearance by Foxy Brown? The fact that the best track is Mobb Deep feat. Nas?

      People that think It was Written is better than Illmatic are completely deluded. Even Nas would say so. Come on people!

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    3. AnonymousJune 02, 2015

      Well, apparently there is two of us finding "It was written'' to be the better album than ''Illmatic''. However, I agree with Max that "N. Y. State Of Mind" hits much harder than "I Gave You Power", that's my favourite track on "Illmatic".
      As for "Talk Of New York" - this is the first time I hear it, and it sounds really cool! Not better than "Locomotive" though..And yes, I think the same - Salaam Remi brings the best out of Nas.

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  6. Havoc was also a great producer for Nas. Havoc outdid Primo on both It Was Written and Nastradamus.

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  7. AnonymousJune 01, 2015

    Very surprised to see a Nas song on your mixtape Max (considering the negative comments/snide remarks you've made against Nasir in the past) Regardless, this is a banging track that shits all over Jigga's Empire State Of Mind which is easily inferior to this. I agree that Salaam Remi usually brings the best out of the don.

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    Replies
    1. Honestly, the snide remarks will continue as long as he keeps doing what he's doing, but I give credit where it's due.

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  8. Any chance somebody will upload that whole mixtape project soon or at least makes a spotify list out of it? I'd love to get that...

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  9. AnonymousJune 01, 2015

    Hey talking about Primo, I just found for the first time your Producers Guild post Max and damn, you should've continued that stuff, I loved that post even though I only found it 10 minutes ago! Much prefer that to this mixtape series gotta say but hey, before you call me out, it's your blog so whatever (you could do a RZA one though maybe? Pretty please?). If you don't ever revisit that series, then I'd still recommend that post to all readers here, it's a dope idea... peace

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    Replies
    1. I've been kicking around the idea of bringing that concept back up, so it isn't completely dead, but if I did, it would complement this mixtape thing, not replace it.

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    2. AnonymousJune 02, 2015

      do that then, whatever. this whole mixtape thing is stagnating a little though imo so a fresh change however temporary would be much appreciated.

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    3. Can't imagine how this series, which only boasts 18 songs as of this writing and has only been going on for the past few months, can be as stagnating as the album reviews I usually run, but do you.

      Delete
    4. AnonymousJune 02, 2015

      yea i disagree about the stagnating thing. i'm lovin the mixtape series. this write up in particular was awesome since you had the lil back story to go with it.

      Delete
  10. AnonymousJune 03, 2015

    Big Track, imo Nas will always be the better writer/storyteller.

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  11. AnonymousJune 03, 2015

    Wow Max included a track by Nasir Jones on his mixtape and there's no Jay Z song (I say this with precaution) to be found..... yet.

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    Replies
    1. So you clearly haven't been following the series then.

      http://hiphopisntdead.blogspot.com/2015/04/for-max-approved-mixtape-minty-fresh.html

      Delete
  12. AnonymousJune 03, 2015

    Lol. I'm sure a Mr Knowles track will appear sometime soon.

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    Replies
    1. It's been done.

      http://hiphopisntdead.blogspot.com/2015/04/for-max-approved-mixtape-minty-fresh.html

      Delete
  13. I must say, although I kind of miss the chunkier reviews, I really like this new series. It seems like a nice outlet for writing about songs you're passionate about (something that isn't always possible when you take on careers that are literally spiralling down). Great stuff, as usual!

    Also, Nas is one of my top three favourite MCs, but I have to admit that his ear for beats sometimes lets him down. I love his work with Salaam Remi, DJ Premier, 1990s Havoc and hope he continues working with them. Also, I would be very interested in seeing him working some more with Q-Tip and Pete Rock; and start collaborations with RZA (they apparently planned on working together on a couple of songs several years ago, but it hasn't happened yet...), Dan the Automator and maybe Adrian Younge too, especially if he can help the Don get into a certain state of mind and run with a theme.

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  14. AnonymousJune 04, 2015

    I have been following the series quite adeptly, I just don't count that "Wrong Prayer" track as an actual song done by Jay Z as it was of course a mash up.

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  15. Sounds like something that would've been on a Spiderman movie or something like that. Otherwise, this is awesome, even if the hook sounds like ass.

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  16. Are you high!? "Nas is Like" is one of the greatest rap beats ever. It's easily a top 10 Premo beat, if not top 5. Anyway, Talk of New York is a fire track. and one of the last Nas tracks I genuinely love. Great beat, great rhymes. The voice change on the hook (Kendricky come to think of it) is annoying but since the song flows, you get used to it.

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