It’s usually never a good idea to tell the world the impact your album will make before it’s released, let alone even made. Nevertheless, Nas has made a habit of this dating back to 2006 when he originally wanted to call his album Nigga, before giving in to Def Jam brass and settling on Hip Hop Is Dead. Never one to back down, Nas went right back in the studio to work on what else? Nigger. Wanting to create awareness and conversation on the word, yet this time the label seemed to be on board —until it was announced the album would go untitled and people began hollering publicity stunt. Is Nas a sell out for changing the title or did he stick to his intended vision by leaving the album nameless? While that issue may never be resolved, Nas is partly successful in delivering what he set out to do.
From the brooding opening piano loop on “Queens Get The Money” to the uplifting snare snaps on “Black President,” Nas channels his inner Walt Whitman as he explores the Black Diaspora in America. Lyrically Nas is dense as London fog as he crams historical references, terms, and names throughout the album as he takes us from the days of Willie Lynch to Willie Hutch to Barack Obama. On “You Can’t Stop Us Now,” Nas reflects on both the overt and covert setbacks African Americans have faced and overcome. “Make The World Go Round” addresses the respect/fear/hatred between Blacks and Caucasians. He does make a slight misstep on “We Are Not Alone,” as he reverts back to Nastradamus conspiracy theories, but jumps back on course for “Louis Farrakhan” “Untitled,” where he ponders if he’ll too have to die for his message to be heard.
Sonically, the mood of the album is sparse and somber as sweeping minor piano chords are prevalent throughout. They are effective in keeping you tuned in to what’s being said, but the overall tempo begins to drag and songs blur together. “Sly Fox,” is one exception however, as Nas berates Fox News and the media in general. The frenetic guitar struts provide a much needed jolt in the middle of the album. Guitars once again pick up the pace on “Fried Chicken” as Nas and Busta Rhymes profess their love for the unhealthy delicacy over a honky-tonk piano loop and lively bass line.
Despite referring to his self as a revolutionary throughout the album, Nas never proposes any solutions for the issues that he brings up. Instead of a call to arms, he delivered a Black State of the Union Address. The closest he ever gets is on “Hero,” when he stops presenting the issues long enough to actually provide a song to inspire listeners. Over a Polow Da Don backdrop that is equal parts HBCU halftime show as is it futuristic space chase, he reflects on his own journey in life that’s brought him where he is today. In the last verse he wisely makes the title controversy bigger than himself as he asks what the next generation will learn from this when it’s time for them to express their views.
Overall, this album sums up everything we’ve come to know Nas to be: lyrically and conceptually great, while lacking the ability to match production with his words to create that musical equinox that’s irrefutable to all. Not to say the beats are atrocious, outside of “Make The World Go Round,” but they do make listening a chore at times instead of keeping the listener engaged. Lyrically though, his wordplay and delivery are sharp as ever as if all the attention to the title made Nas put extra effort and focus into his words. Now that he’s thoroughly laid the issues on the table, (several songs revisit the same topic i.e. “Testify” and “Y’all My Niggas”) we’re just waiting for him to tell us what the next step is.