The Lost Change
Ill Will/Columbia Records
Nasir Jones is dead. Or so one might think given that his latest record, The Lost Tapes, is an album comprised of previously recorded material that was not included on other studio records. However, unlike some posthumous releases, albums that have produced underwhelming results using the same formula, Nas’s latest work is a gem and further helps to rehabilitate the status of God’s Son.
Before hip-hop was overrun by platinum jewelry, rappers trying to sing and pop stars sinking the genre to new depths (thanks, Justin), there was Illmatic, Nas’s debut album. Released in 1994, the record became an instant classic and showcased the MC’s unparalleled storytelling. Nas refined that style on last year’s Stillmatic, and Tapes sounds as though it could have been the second disc in a set.
Tapes is Nas at his best, spitting lyrics containing vivid details and involved allusions over beats that are gritty and yell “street” not “sales.” While some rappers like Jay-Z have indicted Nas for being fake, that accusation seems baseless after hearing street scenes lucidly relayed with great detail and harrowing anecdotes on tracks like “U Gotta Love It,” “No Idea’s Original” and “Purple.” The bleak subject matter addressed in these songs – selling drugs, struggling to avoid death, confronting a world with limited opportunities – works in concert with threadbare beats – often a simple piano melody over drums and a baseline – to force the listener to pay close attention to Nas’s lyrics. And that is when the album’s enduring emotion – loneliness – becomes strikingly apparent.
The album opens with “Doo Rag,” a verbal stroll down memory lane in which Nas fondly remembers a childhood of Stacey Lattisaw tapes, basketball and his introduction to the drug culture of the streets. On “My Way,” the MC openly hints at his solitude, saying, “Though I still feel broke with millions in the bank … Niggas is wolves coming if you ruthless or not.” He sounds dissatisfied and alone. This palpable sense is strongly reinforced by nostalgic remembrances in “Nothing Lasts Forever” and “Fetus.”
Despite the ease with which one can find the themes of this work – the loneliness, the solemnity – the album is not repetitive, sonically or lyrically. Working with accomplished producers like Tone and Poke, the Alchemists and Rockwilder, Nas dishes over a series of beats that complement both his content and style. They are indeed sparse, but those interested in something else should check out the Clipse. Additionally, long time Nas fans will delight in the lyrical brilliance of “Blaze a 50” and “Fetus”, the former reminiscent of Stillmatic’s “Rewind” and the latter of It Was Written’s “I Gave You Power.”
Nas’ career has been mercurial, and while no one has ever doubted his verbal talents, he only recently reclaimed his place among hip-hop’s elite. On the heels of the excellent Stillmatic, the fantastic Tapes is the closest to consistent that Nas has ever been. Having plateaued at the top, the inconsistent Nasir Jones is dead.