Sunday, July 27, 2008

NaS is a Hero


I have been racking my brains trying to come up with a reason why the new single by Nas featuring the becoming ubiquitous Keri Hilson, "Hero", has not been a huge big hit. It's not only an amazing track, but it's better than almost any "urban" track that has come down the pipeline in 2008, and it's certainly better than anything Timbaland has thrown out after five minutes in a studio. I would say it's also his most obviously mainstream song since his 1999 Aaliyah collaboration, "You Won't See Me Tonight", another excellent song that somehow slipped through the cracks for reasons I can't quite understand. You can view the video clip below.

His new album, Untitled, was a surprise though on the heals of 2006 release Hip-Hop is Dead. I should come to expect a new album by Nas to be good, he's routinely one of the only hip-hop artists that continues to do great work that could be considered great today, but also back in the late '80s and early '90s when the genre was really beginning to spark. He originally tried to have the album titled after one of the album's cut's - that'd be Ni**er - but even though he wasn't able to be that bold, that hasn't stopped Untitled from being an exceptionally strong album and he hasn't had to compromise lyrically.

It’s musically striking with the contrast of piano on "Queens Get the Money", smooth urban jazz on "You Can’t Stop Us Now" and more tradition hip-hop beats spread throughout. As is always the case with Nas though, it is in his lyrics where he really shines, and he doesn't back down. As long as race is an issue within (I assume) any aspect of the world then he will always have plenty of fodder for his work. He's confrontational and abrupt on songs such as "Fried Chicken" and Barack Obama gets multiple shout outs, most notably on album closer "Black President", which uses a marching band soundscape, with not as predictably as you could think given how frequent that has become.

Untitled is quite an achievement for Nas and for music in general. It is the sort of hip-hop record that restores my faith in the genre. Nas is an artist and as long as he continues making albums like this then hip-hop, proper hip-hop, is not dead.


Dame James Henry said...

As far as hard-core gangster rap goes (and as much of a fan as a gay white boy from Michigan can be), I've always liked Nas. "One Mic" is beautiful, the irony of the gospel choir used on "Got Urself a Gun" is quite funny and "Made You Look" is a ton of fun. Maybe I'll have to give his new album a look.

Glenn said...

I find that there's still a lot of inventiveness in Nas that runs parallel to his serious lyrics that reminds me of the early hip-hop artists. Most artists of the genre are either far too serious (give it up 50 Cent, etc, you're not fooling anyone that you're "ghetto") or just silly (pretty much anyone with "lil" in their name) that they can't be taken serious even if they tried.

As an artist Nas is impressive in that he still has stuff to say, which so many people who work in hip-hop don't. They've got their millions and their "bling", but Nas knows that the ridiculous tough guy routine is tired. And it really seems like he likes music as a whole. I mean Tupac, for example, was known for sampling artists like Roger Troutman, Phil Collins, Bruce Hornsby and others most famously and I reckon it's because he liked music as a whole, he appreciated other genres and he saw greatness not just in typical urban styles, and that's also what I see in Nas.

I... don't know. I'm probably not making sense.