Album: Nas, Untitled (Def Jam)
Friday 18 July 2008
For my money, Nas remains New York's most potent rapper, operating with an insight and intelligence few exponents can equal.
Certainly, none has so entertainingly sustained the notion of hip-hop as a kind of "urban bush telegraph", to use Chuck D's term. Nas reflects on the social and political situations faced by his audience, using a shared language, but he is as unlikely to patronise them as he is to rub their noses in his wealth.
Take his analysis of the N-word in "Y'all My Ni**as", which starts as a celebration of black cultural hegemony in the fields of style and entertainment before deftly switching to a consideration of the word's origins and implications. Likewise, in "N.I.*.*.E.R (the Slave and the Master)", he encourages young black kids not to buy into the underclass stereotype: "This history don't acknowledge us/ We were scholars way before colleges". It's a theme he returns to in tracks like "You Can't Stop Us Now" and "America", the latter all-purpose condemnation notable for his criticism of the poor deal afforded women in that society. In a subculture where not using terms like "bitch" and "ho" is still deemed wimpish, this is revolutionary. Small wonder that he should ponder the attempts on his own life when considering the bleak fate of revolutionaries in "Untitled" itself.
He knows where to point the finger, too: in "Sly Fox" he takes a stand against Rupert Murdoch's notoriously right-wing news service, advising: "Watch what you're watching, Fox feed us toxin". In an election year, it's bang on target; though he is convinced, in "Black President", of Barack Obama's victory.
It's not all serious – on "Fried Chicken", Nas and Busta Rhymes turn the food/sex metaphor on its head, couching their appreciation of unhealthy cooking in terms more applicable to romance: "Mrs Fried Chicken, you're my addiction".
Overall, Untitled is probably the most politically oriented rap album since the days of Public Enemy and The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Only on "We're Not Alone" do Nas's conspiracy-theory tendencies start to get the better of him as he slips into alien Area 51 territory best left to The X Files. There's really no need: with Untitled, Nas lays out enough plausible answers to accommodate the most unaccountable symptoms of America's ailing body politic.
Pick of the album:'You Can't Stop Us Now', 'Y'all My Ni**as', 'N.I.*.*.E.R (the Slave and The Master)', 'Fried Chicken', 'Black President', 'Sly Fox'
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