June 20, 2018

My Gut Reaction: Nas - Nasir (June 15, 2018)


Six years ago, Nasir Jones released his eleventh album, Life Is Good. Critics viewed it as a return to form of sorts: he wrote the songs featured within after his divorce from singer Kelis was finalized, and as such, a lot of the project hinges on feelings of nostalgia. Musically, it’s Nas’ finest album in fucking years, as it seemed that he finally found collaborators that understood what he was aiming for: No I.D., Salaam Remi, and the late Heavy D., among others, brought with them the ghosts of hip hop’s past, evoking eras that either ended long ago or possibly never existed in the first place in order for Nasir to effectively wax eloquently. It worked, is what I’m saying.


Last week, Nasir Jones released his twelfth album, Nasir. Stans all over the Interweb view it as the man’s finest hour, even though it only runs for twenty-something minutes. It is fully produced by Kanye West, an admitted Nas superfan who had been waiting for this opportunity his entire career, and was likely recorded in the week leading up to its release date. Nas himself didn’t even acknowledge that Nasir was even really dropping until the night before its release, when he was on his way to a listening party: for whatever reason, promotion was left to West, who lumped it in with the rest of his G.O.O.D. Music summer releases. Nas is currently in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, most notably facing allegations of infidelity and both physical and mental abuse from his ex-wife Kelis, who is trying to secure child support for their son, whom Nas has not been taking care of at all, allegedly. Apparently, staying away from the media is his default setting, even if it meant abandoning his own promotional run-up, leaving the heavy lifting to a dude who is going through his own negative press cycle at the moment.

This is what hip hop is now.

Nasir, like all of Kanye’s previous albums released this summer, is seven tracks long, which in theory should cut through all of the filler and bullshit and leave listeners with just the core of our host’s being instilled into the music. The man's first album in six years is being met with almost comical amounts of acclaim online, with people claiming that Nas’ lyrics are the finest he’s ever written, that Kanye’s given him the best beats he has ever rapped over in his entire career, and other hyperbolic praise that folks who live-streamed the listening party tripped all over themselves to spit out online in an effort to prove that they heard it “first”. (Anyone who truly believes that Kanye's beats best those provided for our host by the likes of Salaam Remi, DJ Premier, Large Professor, and Pete Rock, among others, are alt-right trolls who will, hopefully, follow Kanye West off the edge of a fucking cliff very soon.) Having one guy produce an entire project, especially someone like Kanye West (who, again, has been wanting to do this even before his tenure with Roc-A-Fella Records), should give Nasir the consistency and coherence that his fans have been demanding, as the man tends to be all over the place when it comes to his full-length projects. Even Life Is Good has some moments where you’re left shaking your head. What it won't do is help Nasir seem like other Nas projects, as the guest list plants this firmly in the "Kanye West album minus Kanye" camp.

Another thing Nasir is not like is his previous twelfth album, which he boasted about just having completed on DJ Khaled’s single “Nas Album Done” back in 2016. So two years ago, Nasir Jones was sitting on a finished project but couldn’t find a way to release it… even though he has his own record label, Mass Appeal Records (Nasir is a joint venture between Mass Appeal and Def Jam, and he’s still a Def Jam employee at the moment) and the means to promote it. I’m calling bullshit: he lied to us. The album wasn’t done. Nasir has moments where he talks about police brutality (which, sadly, would have been relevant had it been released at any point in his career) and going to the bathroom at Starbucks without buying anything: Nasir was clearly rushed through the recording process. This is not the album he promised us two years ago.

So if you really have a full album ready to go, Nasir, I challenge you to drop it. Right now. You’re not reading this shit anyway, but prove yourself. And while you’re at it, maybe actually address Kelis’ allegations, instead of ignoring them and her outright. Wishing that it would all disappear does not make them disappear.

Nasir was hampered with issues on its release date: it wasn’t uploaded to digital services and streaming sites until Friday evening due to still-unexplained problems. Kanye’s right-hand man Mike Dean started mastering the final product immediately after the listening party wrapped, but it’s unknown whether he was the holdup, or if Kanye himself was trying to seek perfection again, even though he’s claimed the whole purpose of this G.O.O.D. Music summer push was to leave perfection behind in favor of art. Nas himself got in on the jokes that flew around on Twitter that day, as did his label, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Interweb was a bizarre mash-up of people wondering where the album was and folks proclaiming it to be the greatest shit ever recorded in the history of mankind last Friday.

And then BeyoncĂ© and Jay-Z released their surprise joint album the very next day, monopolizing the media cycle for the foreseeable future, or at least until Drake’s Pusha T-response-less Scorpion hits the net at the end of the month.

I’ve sat on this one for too long, so let’s just dig into it.

1. NOT FOR RADIO (FEAT. PUFF DADDY & 070 SHAKE)
Without even having heard the rest of Nasir yet, I can tell you that having our host proclaim, “Escobar season begins” right at the top is not going to end well. Nas transitioned away from the Esco persona long ago, and it doesn’t really behoove him to return to that well. Anyway, “Not For Radio”. Puffy pops up to stretch his end-of-song ranting from his own “Victory” (one of the best Notorious B.I.G. songs to ever exist, come fight me) into the length of a full track, while 070 Shake sing-raps a single sentence and somehow proves she’s the next big thing out of G.O.O.D. Music? Am I going crazy here? She hardly does anything on here. ‘Ye’s beat aims for gothic by way of the Nas and Puffy hit single “Hate Me Now” (a clear influence on “Not For Radio”) but lands squarely inside a Hot Topic, while Nas… fucking sucks. He sounds terrible. The man never catches the beat, delivering his bars as though he hasn’t cared about music in twenty years (which would, admittedly, explain a lot), especially during his why-bother-fact-checking-anyway? second verse (“Fox News was started by a black dude” isn’t true just because he follows that up by saying, “Also true”, you two). This was so fucking awful that I’m half-convinced Puffy is going to fly out to Kanye’s Calabasas home just to hit him in the head with a champagne bottle. (Google it.)

2. COPS SHOT THE KID (FEAT. KANYE WEST)
The beat is annoying as shit. Kanye West goes the “A Milli” route with the music, but attempts to sprinkle in some social commentary, which he then fucks up by rapping on here, but we’ll get to that, by turning in an instrumental made up of a portion of a Slick Rick bar from a far superior track (“Children’s Story”, duh), drums, and some vocal distortion that hits around the halfway point. It doesn’t work, but online critics have already fallen all over themselves to praise ‘Ye’s innovative vision. Fuck that, the music is ass. Nasir still couldn’t catch the beat if he were wearing gloves dripping with Superglue, so even though some of his imagery does connect, the message is diluted overall, as he comes across as an amateur who has no business picking up a microphone at all. As for #MAGA ‘Ye, he uses the phrase “fake news” (ugh) and claims that every story “has two sides”, which then leads to him talking about police brutality from the cop’s perspective. What the actual fuck? I can imagine a time when this could have worked, as I can see what ‘Ye (and his ghostwriters) were aiming for, but now is not the time, and he is not the right person to ever approach this topic. Just stick to rapping about sex in a really disgusting manner, man.

3. WHITE LABEL
Kanye West fucks around and comes up with a beat that the Nas of I Am… or maybe God’s Son might have sounded fucking terrific over: it resembles his work on Jay-Z’s “Lucifer” in its construction, its vocal samples worked in as a part of the instrumental (as opposed to making up the beat as a whole, as on “Cops Shot The Kid”). The problem here is our host, who is the Nasir Jones of now, and he seems to think writing verses about being rich and famous enough to fuck any woman he wishes is a good idea. This isn’t going to put the infidelity portions of Kelis’ allegations to rest, man: if anything, you’re just proving her point. And who the fuck is paying Nas a million of anything for a feature these days? “White Label” is the most successful track of the evening thus far, as our host manages to locate the pocket roughly fifteen percent of the time, but the music carries this one: I wish ‘Ye had given this one to Pusha T for Daytona instead. Or hell, he could have even held it back just in case he ever worked things out with Hov for a Throne reunion. Sigh.

4. BONJOUR (FEAT. TONY WILLIAMS)
I’m willing to buy that the music for “Bonjour” (as opposed to everything else on Nasir I’ve heard so far) was created with Nas in mind: it’s exactly the kind of shit he could sound good over. But my God did Esco fuck over his producer here. “Bonjour” is about absolutely nothing: Nas boasts about banging chicks and eating French food before claiming, “You wealthy when your kid’s upbringing better than yours.” I know that he’s probably speaking in general terms, but the words you choose are important: I have to assume he’s only referring to his daughter Destiny here, since Kelis is still trying to secure child support for the son Nas has with her, and he did say “kid”, not “kids”. Hmmm. Guest crooner Tony Williams fits the instrumental like a glove, so the only element that doesn’t work on “Bonjour” is Nas himself. Starting to sense a pattern here?

5. EVERYTHING (FEAT. THE-DREAM & KANYE WEST)
There is no reason for a seven-and-a-half minute song to appear on a Nas album, let alone one where our host doesn’t even deem it necessary to appear until after the two-minute mark. But you see, “everything” is a Kanye West song where ‘Ye himself is scuttled to the sidelines, as proven by the minimalist beat (which is easygoing, but far more experimental than what our host would typically choose with his tin ear) and the presence of ‘Ye’s frequent collaborator Caroline Shaw on backing vocals. Nasir does contribute three full verses, and does so while (fucking finally!) clicking with the instrumental, which I kind of enjoyed, but didn't love, for its simplicity. Nasir runs through his anti-vaxxer bullet points during his second verse, because again, why-bother-fact-checking-anyway? is an easier stance to take than actually educating yourself, I guess (maybe he and Kanye are made for each other after all). But there are hints on “everything” that the Nas performing here could be the same guy that gave us Illmatic several lifetimes ago, so when coupled with ‘Ye’s chorus (which I liked, sue me), this is the best song on Nasir by a country mile, and it's still pretty annoying. Could have done without The-Dream’s vocals, and it is still far too fucking long for it to make much of an impact in this age of the short attention span, but at least there’s one decent song on this motherfucker.

6. ADAM AND EVE (FEAT. THE-DREAM)
My biggest problem with Nas, as longtime readers already know, is Nas himself. He seems to believe that everything he says is of the utmost importance and should be followed as a religion of sorts: he refuses to accept just how lucky he is to be able to do something as inherently silly as rapping for a living. Why so serious, Nasir? Because of this trait, he also runs on but a single speed: dude is not the most versatile artist. So most musical backing, such as what Kanye sets him up with on “Adam and Eve”, tends to be wasted on the man. Oh, you may think he has a bit of a fun side because he says, “You broke my heart, Fredo” on here, but don’t fool yourself: he probably has an actual family member named Fredo, as I don’t buy that Nasir Jones has ever watched a movie, as he has never come across as the type of person who seems to enjoy anything. “Adam and Eve” is full of ambiguous threats and rants, as though Nas was trying to convince himself that he was the greatest rapper of all time and failing miserably. Rapping is a hell of a lot more than just the written portion, so.

7. SIMPLE THINGS
Nasir ends Nasir by attacking those of us who truly believe, and can point to several albums’ worth of evidence of, that he has a terrible ear for beats, which lands about as well as one would expect. Surprisingly, he then insults every single producer he has ever worked alongside by claiming, “Never sold a record for the beat, it’s my verses they purchase”, completely discounting the input of each and every one of his collaborators by proclaiming himself to be the only ingredient that matters. He must have seen Kanye on the other side of the glass, though, as he quickly walks that comment back, offering up a mea culpa by saying, “Without production I’m worthless.” That wild ride takes place within the span of but a few bars, but I don’t think he truly believes that the music helps his message get across. Here’s a way to test your theory, Esco: release a spoken-word album. Not a book of poetry, that’s cheating: release an album. With no music. Just your words. We’ll see how successful that shit is. And he spends the rest of “Simple Things” bragging about celebrities he’s slept with, conveniently side-stepping the whole Kelis drama by pretending she just doesn’t exist. At least this nightmare is finally over. Oh, and ‘Ye’s instrumental here sounds conventional and bland, so in other words, exactly like something Nas would have purchased for himself under a different set of circumstances. Zing!

THE LAST WORD: “We waited six years for… this?”, you may have asked yourself at the conclusion of “Simple Things”, and you wouldn’t be alone: Nasir is less the culmination of six years’ worth of pent-up thoughts and more a rushed collaboration that our host put little to no thought into. There is nothing on this glorified EP that deserves a spot on your Nas playlist, should you have one that consists of more than just Illmatic, a project which Nasir does not resemble in the least fucking bit. As I touched on above, Nas never changes his flow to suit his musical backing, so he tends to only sound concise over very specific instrumentals, usually boom-bap-esque in nature or spirit, and these ain’t it, fuckers. Nasir was a doomed project from the moment Kanye West opened his #MAGA mouth: any excitement that had generated from his random tweet announcing the collaboration prior to all of this mess had evaporated for everyone who understands how to properly “cancel” a person online (hint: it’s not “choosing to ignore certain aspects of the artist’s personality in order to enjoy his or her output”). I wasn’t looking forward to this, anyway: Nas could have stopped after Life Is Good and had a decent-enough run. Kanye’s instrumentals can’t help but travel up the producer’s own asshole, meandering as they do in an effort to employ as many co-producers as humanly possible: these are not Nas beats, save for “Bonjour”, which he squanders regardless. “everything” and “Adam and Eve” have decent instrumentals, but even with all of the praise (relatively speaking) I gave “everything” above, it’s still not something I plan on going back to. But Nasir lives and dies by its host, and Nas gives so few fucks about his own performance on this project that he couldn’t even be bothered to re-record his bars where he was obviously off-beat. Looking past the fact that Kanye fucking West was not the collaborator we wanted a full-length album from Nas with (that would be DJ Premier (a project that had actually been announced but will never fucking happen) or Salaam Remi (my dark horse choice)), Nasir just flat-out doesn’t work, and it’s not because of ‘Ye, and it’s not because he doesn’t address the Kelis stuff: it’s simply because he doesn’t care anymore. Well, neither do I, dude.

-Max

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26 comments:

  1. AnonymousJune 20, 2018

    I'm one of the Kanye stans posting on all of the G.O.O.D. music releases. This is the first album where I 100% agree with you. This is trash. Bonjour and the first track were the only two with production I enjoyed. Kanye dropped the ball here, and Nas dropped it even harder. Nas' flow was so bad on this, it was awkward and off-kilter. Terrible album, esp. considering the hype. What a bummer.

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    1. Those beats aren't even that good! "Bonjour" *sounds* OK enough, but it isn't anything that couldn't have been completed in GarageBand or FL Studio in under an hour – and that goes double for "No Soap Radio." Sure, the *sample* may be epic, but the final instrumental doesn't feel big because Kanye showed zero interest in developing it at all: The bass work (on this and "Cops Shot the Kid") is just taps on a keyboard that just fucking sit there, and sound like they were only added literally minutes before the pre-release stream.

      Also, the drums are universally weak throughout and "Cops Shot the Kid" is easily the worst-produced song based around a vocal phrase sample. Only the last three songs have production I'd unequivocally call good (the vocal sample in "White Label" constantly intrudes on Nas' vocals for what's pretty clearly no reason). The whole album just screams "binding obligations" from both sides.

      At least only "Cops Shot the Kid" might be as bad as "Big Girl."

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    2. Looking back on it, I think I liked the beat for "White Label" BECAUSE it drowns out Nas and his inane vocals. I'm kind of joking, but not really?

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  2. Wow i mean why is nas personal life so important when reviewing the music? I wasn’t a big fan of the album either to be honest but just the comments on the kelis situation and nas not seeing his son, why does he have to comment on it anyway? If he has done the things he is being accused of the legal system will deal with it, i don’t understand the fixation on these allegations. The truth will come out at some point, but i don’t see why he neeeds to address it on social media or his music to appease the general public who’s probably not gonna believe him if he said they weren’t true anyway. Good review by the way, although i enjoyed adam and and simple things

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    1. I guess it's made relevant by what Nas IS talking about... I admit I only got two songs in to this and couldn't be bothered to listen to the next five.

      What a disappointment, Nas is one of my favourite artists and Life is Good was a great album. After the "Nas Album Done" track I had high hopes.

      Perhaps this was his way of showing that his personal life is getting in the way...

      Have to laugh at Hov dropping an album the day after too, making a point to both Nas and Kanye?

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    2. We live in a new era, where silence is equivalent to guilt, and Nas hasn't adapted well. I'm all for respecting the privacy of everyone, but to not even have his publicist deny the allegations real quick is puzzling to me.

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    3. @John - I can't imagine Jay even cares about Nas or Kanye at this point, but yeah, there was absolutely a message being sent with his release date.

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    4. Sir BonkersJune 23, 2018

      @Max
      When a celebrity is accused of wrongdoing, particularly wrongdoing of the particular vicious (not to mention criminal) kind which is the case with these Nas accusations here, there really is nothing the accused can say or do which will be truly to the satisfaction of anyone.
      Remaining silent on it is probably in any day and age the least damaging thing one can do in terms of self-preservation.
      This is regardless of whether the accusations are in fact true or false.
      Denying having committed a crime, or having it denied for you by your publicist, has in and by itself yet to ever make anyone look less guilty. This is because guilty people may also come equipped with powers of denial and publicists, just like people who are actually innocent.
      That is not to say that not addressing this whatsoever will ensure that it blows over.
      These rumours will chase Nas for the rest of his life regardless of whether he did it or not. But denying will sadly not do anything about that either.
      It will however create soundbites however anyone with iMovie and a Youtube channel can have a field day with.
      Probably nobody knows whether he actually did it except for himself and Kelis. Nas silence on the matter does not point in one direction or the other.
      All I can say is: I hope that it can be proven in court if he did it, and that he will get a just punisment in that case.
      If not then that should be the end of that.

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  3. I don't think this album is awful by any means, but its not what I was hoping for. Nas' flow was a bit off but his wordplay was still fairly sharp, I just wish he had come with more clever concepts (e.g, I Gave You Power, Fried Chicken, Rewind) the content became repetitive. I'd probably give it like a 6/10.

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  4. I actually liked this album quite a lot when it first came out, but honestly it's only been a week and it doesn't have a lot of replay value for me. Bonjour is easily the most engaging beat on here, but the rest of them don't sound like songs that I would want to listen to on a regular basis. I didn't really have any problem with Nas' flow on here but his age is starting to show as he really doesn't sound energetic, but at the same time doesn't really hit you with the kind of cold precision that would justify that. My biggest problem with this project is some of his actual lines as it's really hard to take him seriously when some of the stuff he talks about is just illogical and that undermines him a lot. I still don't think it's a bad album but it is a frustrating listen because both Nas and Kanye are definitely talented enough to make something better than this, if they bothered to put more time and energy into it.

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  5. You know I love ya, Max but I hope you hear this out:

    While I agree that this album is absolute trash, maybe even worse than Nastradamus, I disagree with your explanation why. The vast majority of this album’s faults fall squarely on the shoulders of Ye’s bitchass. (For the other reader who doesn’t know, I unyieldingly consider Kanye West to be the single most overrated producer the game has ever seen. And don’t EVER get me started on his rap career.) And having heard every single Nas release, Allow me to say that you go too hard on Nas. You always have and it doesn’t add up to me. Except for those oh-so-few moments where he brags about bedding numerous women, in which I fully support you tearing him a new digestive system.

    Regarding Kelis’ accusations, we’ll just have to wait until the truth, or whatever is considered as such by the public (y’know, because we’re always right on the money, aren’t we?), rears its ugly head. Because it doesn’t matter if Nas is innocent or not, this definitely gon be nasty.

    Peace

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    1. I think I've made my concerns about Nas very clear by now, and at this point, he's coasting on the fact that he has one absolute undeniable classic album under his belt, but what he doesn't realize is that, due to the passage of time, a huge percentage of hip hop fans have no idea what Illmatic even is.

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    2. Life Is Good disagrees with that statement. That album was pretty goddamn good and recalls his triumphant It Was Written showing. Street’s Disciple, while quite bloated, never reached the overbearing threshold. So yeah, I don’t see how he ever coasted.

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    3. AnonymousJune 22, 2018

      I'll get you started Shoe-in. Did you even listen to Daytona? FOH. And Kanye's raps are one of a kind, he literally has his own lyrical style, so if you don't like it that's understandable, but it doesn't mean he's bad.

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    4. ok, I'll bite. None of Nas' albums have reached the peaks that Illmatic surpassed long ago. You may like Life Is Good (and I did, too, which I mentioned in the first paragraph), but nobody's putting it in the Illmatic pantheon. You're likely alone with the Streets Disciple praise, but do you.

      Nas has been coasting for motherfucking YEARS. Are we forgetting that Nastradamus exists? And each and every one of his projects from It Was Written forward has at least one song that is so godawful that it would have ended most artists' careers. And I can't even listen to Illmatic straight through tbh.

      Also, you kinda tipped your hand with how hilariously aggressive you got regarding Kanye. I get you don't like the guy, but he seriously wasn't the problem here, even though his contributions also sucked.

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    5. Also, @anonymous - Kanye's rhymes aren't as much "one of a kind" and of his own "style" as they are "of many different styles blended together". Working with a team of writers does that to a person.

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    6. Here’s the thing, Max: I’m fully aware that Nas has quite the truckload of horseshit songs in his catalog, so it’s not like I’m giving him a free pass or anything. I just like to give him credit when his efforts pay off, which is much more than what you’re implying with this “coasting” argument, thereby proving to me that he wasn’t, really.

      As far as Kanye goes, he’s the producer of the project, right? Meaning he’s ultimately responsible for directing Nas towards meshing well with the beats. Thing is, it is ridiculously rare for an MC to bend a certain beat to HIS style without a producer’s direction. And if this fuckwad is half the producer people praise him to be, he should be able to do that effortlessly. But here we are, though so my point regarding most of the blame falling squarely on his bitchass stands.

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    7. We're both making the same comment, except blaming different people. It's fine. I would argue that Nas holds more responsibility for making sure he fits well with the beats; otherwise, why choose them? And Kanye can and has crafted beats specifically built for other artists before, so we ALL know he knows how to do it.

      This is Nas' fault. Plain and simple. And I give the man credit when it's due: however, he doesn't deserve quite as much credit as you seem to feel he's entitled to. He's proven himself to be a great writer, but not a great overall artist.

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    8. Your opinion, man.

      What I do know is that the songs that Nas clicks on are forever among my favorites, which are a whole lot more than what you dismiss. I do agree that he's a better writer than artist, but he's struck too many times for me to consider him a "bad" artist. Certainly more than what can say for his producer on this shit EP.

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  6. AnonymousJune 21, 2018

    I'm a big Nas fan, and while I liked this a fair amount more than you, it's still a very mediocre release. Between the conspiracy theory nonsense, him sounding off-beat on a couple tracks, and the lack of addressing of important topics, it was just very underwhelming

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  7. The production on here was excellent as to be expected from Kanye. Nas just didn't put any effort into trying to flow over the beats or come up with interesting things to say (or when he does try to be interesting he just winds up spewing bullshit, a la Not for Radio). The beats here make it a worthy listen for me but Nas could have done so much more with them...

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    1. I would disagree about the production being excellent, but that's just me. More objectively, Nasir isn't credited to Kanye West vs. Nas, it's just a Nas album produced by Kanye West, and Ye proves to be not the most observant collaborator when it comes to Nas, as none of this is tailored to Nas' set of skills. 'Ye did far better job with Pusha T.

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  8. AnonymousJune 22, 2018

    you're wrong about the movie part. he sipped the dom p watching Gandhi, you know

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    1. Please. He probably only watched that movie in a junior high class right before winter break, and he likely wasn't even paying attention because who would in a situation like that?

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  9. AnonymousJune 23, 2018

    The man hasn't made a close to engaging since God's Son in my opinion. Near 16 years later the quality of his album's has plummeted further downward than I Am... and Nastradamus. It's high time I begin ignoring anything Nas puts out.

    Also...I'M ALREADY SICK OF THESE FUCKING EP LENGTH "ALBUMS" ALREADY!!!!!! LAZY BASTARDS!

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  10. AnonymousJuly 10, 2018

    Worst music review I've seen in a long time. Like someone who reads a book for the pictures... wow.

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