Ever since Kelis accused Nas of getting blackout drunk and beating her up during their marriage, I knew I’d have a different listening experience with his music. The same happened to me with Kanye West, I just couldn’t get into his Ye album after the idiotic slavery comments and Trump advocacy that preceded it.
I didn’t want to not be able to enjoy a Nas project in the manner that I always have. In fact, more than any veteran, mainstream hip-hop artist, he hearkens to the essence of hip-hop as a culture instead of the billion-dollar industry it’s become today. His name is so weighted that merely stating allegiance is regarded as a badge of hip-hop purity — ask his traditionalist stans who take it upon themselves to strictly govern what “is” or “isn’t” hip-hop. In an ever-expanding pool of abusive or dimwitted artists, some of whom make you want to throw the whole rapper out, Nas could be counted on as a guilt-free outlier. But no more.
No one knows the true nature of Nas and Kelis’ relationship, but the compulsion to inherently discredit women’s allegations in order to keep our peace of mind has to stop. Kelis’ allegations have to be taken seriously. While Nas may be better with his words than 99.9% of men, perhaps he’s just as susceptible as any to abusive behavior. I knew that listening to his next project — which Kanye announced shortly before Kelis’ interview — would be more complicated to evaluate than his past work.
That reality was compounded by the presence of Kanye as curator. Kanye lazily addressed his “slavery” comment by stating that wasn’t even him “on a wild day.” Similarly, Nas succinctly deflects the Kelis allegations by rhyming, “go write whatever blog, messiness is not ever the god, do what’s necessary, I’m never worried,” on the pensive “everything.” They’re two prideful, self-aggrandized moments that rouses their devout supporters as much as they agitate their critics. It seems like they’re just not going to cogently address why so many people are disappointed in them.
With that gaping caveat in tow, we get Nasir, a reflective project that shows Nas residing in a space as a hip-hop OG and hood mentor. As tired as the phrase is, it surely aspires to be “grown man rap.” The album weighs in at a GOOD seven tracks, like every other project Kanye has been doing this June. That tracklist is probably too short for those waiting on new Nas since 2012’s Life Is Good, but it will have to do for now.
At least the Kanye gamble mostly paid off, as Ye laced him with one of the more well-rounded soundscapes of his career. There are no sparse, more-apt-for-slam-poetry beats on the album, which has bogged down the musicality of his past projects. Even the tracks hampered by repetitive samples — “Cops Shot The Kid” and “White Label” — are captivating in their ingenuity and nostalgia factor. That said, the mixing throughout the project could be much better, as Nas’ clarity often fights with the vocal samples and hinders the centerpiece of any Nas project — his lyrics. Nas also sounds uncharacteristically out of pocket during some junctures of the album, a development that could be as much about the rushed nature of the project (Diddy added vocals the day of release) than attrition.