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.