Posts Tagged ‘Nas’

Greetings, all.

So, after last week’s WCW-influenced cluster-you-know-what, let’s switch some gears here.

August Alsina’s proper debut Testimony dropped this week. To be honest, I’d somewhat forgotten about Alsina’s ghetto gospel-tinged tracks since “I Luv This S***” didn’t get as much play as I thought it would thought that his style was a bit too gritty for R&B. I mean, Tha Product 2 was a beautiful mix of real life themes and hip-hop-based bravado. It’s like someone took The Weeknd’s honesty, took the “fun” from it and added in the story of, for instance, a Yo Gotti (who Alsina worked with, coincidentally enough, on Testimony). So, I put Alsina on the back-burner, because as much as I looked forward to his full-length debut, I feared it. Why? Well, tell me the last time an R&B album that wasn’t really a traditional R&B album, but instead steeped in hip-hop, came out as well as it should have.

And no, Kiss Land doesn’t count. That album was on another level. Plus, it wasn’t exactly “steeped in hip-hop.”

Testimony begins with “Testify,” an atonement of sorts. It sets the mood for the album (so-called real n**** s***” sung over strip-club-friendly production) and acts as Alsina’s “Dreams and Nightmares” intro. But, after lofty expectations from the intro, the album stays in neutral for a lot of the sixty-one-or-so minutes it exists. It doesn’t steer too far from familiar topics and doesn’t really offer that much more insight into this young man’s life. Essentially, if you’ve heard Tha Product or its sequel you’ll have heard this album. That’s not to say it’s not worth a listen. It’s a solid full-length debut and he’s improving in his songwriting…and not relying on four-letter-words to get his point across all the time. Just don’t expect anything “brand new.” I still recommend you check it out though, especially the Pusha T-assisted “FML.”

(Album stream is the edited deluxe version on Spotify.)

 

On another note, of course, it’s the 20-year-anniversary of Illmatic, the GAWD CD. I’ve nothing to say about this except, if you’ve never heard this CD and call yourself a rap fan, I feel ashamed for you and your family. The XX edition features some remixes of the original album (mainly three remixes of “It Ain’t Hard To Tell”) and is pretty cool to see this CD hasn’t exactly aged horribly, as even the boombap feel has started to come back (thank you Joey Bada$$ and more). I think it’s safe to say that Nas has not–and will not–lose with this one. If you put out an album that’s still heralded as a classic twenty years later–and still inspires artists to drop some bars (shameless plug), you win.

(Album stream below is NSFW; edited version not available on Spotify at the moment)

 

To stream Future’s new album Honest courtesy of MTV.com simply click the album cover art below. Unfortunately it is unsafe for listening on your office speakers, so you may want to plug those headphones in if you’re at work. The album is surprisingly good. Although, as with Alsina’s album there isn’t much new ground broken, but it keeps you intrigued. I mentioned this on Twitter, but Future’s Dungeon Family heritage is starting to shine through with this one, as it’s a great mix between turn-up anthems, lover-man Auto-Tune rap-sung songs (although “I Won” is a bit too pandering for my taste) and hood stories. In some ways, it complements Alsina’s Testimony perfectly, as one tells the story of the young man trying to make it (Testimony), the other tells the story of the older man who’s already made it, but still sees the world as ripe for the picking (Honest).

vibe-future-honest-cover

Wow, three thumbs up in one week. Either I’m losing my touch or music’s starting to just get better.

Until next time.

-Speed on the Beat


nas-bye-baby-video-600x450

Our topic in hip-hop this week is Nas and the belief that he’s, to put it lightly, a perennial loser at life. I got the idea, admittedly, from a recent post on HipHopDX on Nas’ opinions on “tanning” in hip-hop (that’s another post entirely) and the way commentators tried to eat him alive. I never thought someone who:

*has been nominated for several Grammy Awards (though he’s never won one)
*has gone platinum on several albums (though none after 2002’s God’s Son)
*has battled Jay Z and lived musically to tell about it (even though, y’know, Nas hasn’t gone platinum since around the time of his beef with Jay–even with the critically acclaimed Hip-Hop is Dead album)
*has been in the game for twenty years–and doesn’t look too corny on stage and
*has one of the best hip-hop albums of the decade so far with Life is Good

would be considered a loser, but here we are.

For some reason, hip-hop commentators love to single out Nas for almost everything he does–and slap a big, fat “L” on it. That is not to be confused with hip-hop legend, the late Lamont “Big L” Coleman. Big L was never a loser, because he struck men quicker than lightning. But Nas? If you let the internet–and several blogs even named after jabs at Nas (such as, well, smartenupnas.com) tell it, Nas has as much luck as the Detroit Lions or the 2013 Houston Astros. But where does it all come from?

nas-lost

Byron “Bol” Crawford, an influence of mine, said in an interview for his book on the subject that Nas lost because of everything after Illmatic (shiny suits and crucifixes with Diddy, “Oochie Wally,” Kelis, not being featured in Def Jam: Icon as a playable character, etc.). Typing “why Nas lost” into Google treats you with a discussion from Boxden with Thirteen Points on Nas’ Losses. If they had one more, they could have matched Woodrow Wilson’s reasons for why World War I was good and bad for…the world. Granted, Wilson called for peace and the internet seemingly calls for Nasir’s head every time he opens his mouth, but you get the idea.

There are a few reasons why he can be seen as a loser that I, personally, could ascribe to (if I were in Camp Nas-Lost-A-Lot).

First, let us discuss his constant “switched demeanor” (I know that bar referred to Mobb Deep. Don’t try to troll the untrollable) and bouncing between revolutionary Nas, street Nas and “let’s make songs for the club” Nas. However, let’s take a look at pretty much every memorable hip-hop artist, even Immortal Technique to a degree. GOOD artists don’t/can’t stick on the same subjects for the length of their careers, lest they become Soulja Boy (Sorry, Boi-1da.net fam; Soulja is still pretty one-trick to me. He’s made some decent songs, but most of his verses still revolve around swag) or someone. Even LL doesn’t just rhyme (lyrics to both songs NSFW) about getting women and their undergarments in a bunch, even if that’s what he’s known for (that and also being punchline fodder for perceived missteps; that’s another post as well).

Plus this is one of the only non-shirtless LL photos I could find.

Plus this is one of the only non-shirtless LL photos I could find when searching “LL Cool J and Nas” on the Google.

For others? It may be the fact that, after everything was said and done with the Jay beef, he eventually worked with–and under Jay. But, let’s be real here. The average rapper, regardless of how “conscious” and against the system they are, they’d rather be signed to a major label than do what I do and release everything–and I mean everything–independently. Note, of course, that I said “average,” because there are rappers that prefer the DIY method. As much as I sometimes dislike saying this, if you want your message to be heard, sometimes you need to go mainstream then lure them back into the “realness.” Or, at the least, get mainstream’s help.

Hi Macklemore.

Others still could even argue that Nas loses because he had one undeniably “classic” album, Illmatic. At under 40 minutes, it did what most albums these days can’t do in twice that time.

"It ain't hard to tell..."

“It ain’t hard to tell…”

Keep in mind that most of these grievances, especially this one, are also brought up in Jay Z’s “Takeover.” “Takeover,” in some ways, acted as a launchpad for anti-Nas sentiments shared by some of my hip-hop blogging/commentating contemporaries. That doesn’t make ’em any less true, though. I am a Nas fan and I respect what he’s done for hip-hop. But, other than Illmatic, Nas often comes up with stellar concepts (HHiD, the N-Word/Untitled album, his double CD, even Life is Good to a degree) that tend to fail to deliver on their promises in some way that ends up damaging the album. For the purposes of this conversation, let’s look at Life is Good.

015

Life is Good saw the return of Illmatic-era Nas (obviously older and more worn). It featured boombap beats, soul samples, Swizz Beatz, Noah “40” Shebib drums, and Amy Winehouse. It was a great album. It was a summertime banger. It still gets played in my phone from time to time. But saying it’s the rap version of Marvin Gaye’s Here My Dear? That is a bit off-the-mark. For starters, while both albums deal with musical icons after divorce, HMD showcased Marvin’s pain, anger and confusion regarding his divorce proceedings with Anna Gordy. LiG touches on the disintegration of Nas’ marriage in a few spots. One of those, of course, is the cover. Secondly, HMD is, in some ways, the culmination of all of Marvin Gaye’s different musical–and personal–entities over his career. He showcases the broken heart, the burgeoning/potentially recovering addict, the confused star-crossed lover, and the revolutionary all in one. Nas, on the other hand, showcases a little introspective thought toward his career and his situation(s). Throughout most of the album, he’s telling stories. But he’s not telling his story.

Essentially, Nas is the street poet. He’s the voice of the generation. He’s one of the God Emcees. But, twenty years in, he still often shuts listeners out of his own life. To me, this is one of his fallacies. I’m not saying everyone has to talk about shooting everyone else. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I mean that Nas is a great artist and a vivid photographer of inner-city life. But, he (often) doesn’t allow anyone to turn the camera around on him and that tarnishes his legacy in a sense. So, all in all, Nas should not be considered a loser, per se. Never that. However, he can–and rightfully should–be considered an artist that still doesn’t give everything that he should artistically, as he’d rather present scatterbrained efforts that attempt to tell everyone’s story.

And besides, he’s lasted longer than most “Nas Lost” commentators could in music. That’s got to be worth something, right?

(Editor’s Note/Disclaimer: I’ve attempted to address a problem/concern in the hip-hop community–hence the title putting emphasis on the “WHY,” not the entire question. I’m asking–and attempt to answer the following: Even with his follies, why can/should the man be considered a loser? This is not a post on why he IS a loser? I hope you’ve read through, taken away points, and begin to form your own opinions. Also, I ask that you don’t take to insults and baseless accusations just because I’m speaking on something “uncomfortable.” We’re all adults here; name-calling is juvenile. If you’ve an opinion on what I’ve written, please spark a dialogue with me. I’m not afraid to be told I’m “wrong,” as long as there’s proof with it. Finally, let me reiterate the following: I am a fan of Nas’ music and what he’s done for hip-hop. So, my comments are not based in “hate” of Nas, but more of an analysis of his music and the “facts” presented. Thank you for reading and peace be with you.)

Greetings and saliva, folks.

Hope your hangovers are recovered and your ready for some real spit (see what I did there?), because it’s time for Speed’s Wishlist for Hip-Hop in the Upcoming Frame of Time.* I used to do these annually on one of my older blogs, but that site was lost in The Great AOL Disintegration of the Mid-2000s. So, without further ado, here are some talking points that, if followed, can only bring peace and awesomeness into the world of hip-hop.

First, can we stop trying to sound like Chief Keef, Future/Rich Homie Quan and/or Migos? I mean, come on! I get that music is one of those things that goes by the philosophy of more is better and “if it worked for them, it’ll damn sure work for me because I’m better and more real than them.” But, if I’ve got to sit through one more faux-sung, over-AutoTuned track about trapping, thots/t.h.o.t. (a word/acronym that must be sent to pasture–and soon), and the lot with that “Karate Chop” flow, I swear that I’m going to start throwing chairs. And we all know what happens when people throw chairs (Ed. Note: link contains a use of “the n-word”). Now, I can’t lie. If I’m in the club, and I’ve had a couple…ummm…sips of Sprite, I don’t want to hear Immortal Technique, Nas, or Lupe. Heck, I don’t even want to hear my music when I’m partying, so everything has its place. But, get out their lane, random up-and-coming rapper 217291.

Secondly, I’d love to hear a female rapper (sorry Jean Grae, there is still a socioeconomic need to differentiate between male and female rappers–even if I don’t necessarily agree with it) to drop bars without referring to their sex or referring to themselves as female dogs (keeping it PG here). I know that people try to “reclaim” words and re-purpose them as strong, pro-cause terms, but I still can’t see much too “awesome” about being a dog. Maybe I’m missing something.

Ya...don't say, Speed?

Eh…nah. (Had to bring this one into ’14)

Third, can we stop the Drake jokes? No, this one has nothing to do with some upcoming news I’ve got for everyone the fact that I’m also writing for Boi-1da.net now. It’s more so that the jokes are repetitive and dated. It’s like watching an episode of Two and a Half Men. On repeat. For a year. You can see how that may make a person go all Robot Chicken (Ed. Note: Viewer’s discretion is advised as this video is from the show Robot Chicken). Better yet, if we’re gonna do Drake jokes, it’s like watching Degrassi: The Next Generation for a year and only getting to watch the episode where Jimmy gets shot. Yes, I watch(ed) Degrassi. In high school, and oddly in college, it got me into some…great situations. Now, some people, like Big GhostFASE and the like, they made their name off calling out some of the more…ahem…emotive rappers out there, and that’s awesome. But, that doesn’t mean everyone needs to/can do it as effectively.

This. Must. Stop.

This. Must. Stop.

Fourth, can conscious rappers get off their high horses? If there’s one thing that gets my goat more than anything, it’s that sort of you-know-what. I mean, seriously! It’s bad enough when Fake Deep Twitter talks about stuff they don’t fully comprehend. It’s even worse when you’ve gotta listen to entire albums of that gobbledygook, which brings me to my next point.

DOUBLE SEGUE!

DOUBLE SEGUE!

Fifth, can rappers get back to, oh I don’t know, rapping?! Between Joe Budden giving out relationship advice, Lupe tweeting books, Kanye “ranting” but kind of making sense, and so on, I had a headache. We get it. You’re bored and have down time like regular people, so you want to do something random. That’s cool. That’s great, actually, if it’ll keep you out of jail. But I want more music, guys and girls. Get to that, then we can talk about your extracurriculars.

Sixth, and this one is kind of local. DMV artists, let’s try to make history by having a year where we all get along and don’t start beefing over “he said, she said” tomfoolery. Because honestly, almost no one outside the DMV knows who any of us are. Heck, people have found out more about Wale through who he’s wanted to punch in the mouth at Complex than his music. Let’s not even get started on the Baltimore hip-hop scene (and yes, there is one. And no, it doesn’t just have Baltimore Club Music heads in it). If we, as an area (and don’t give me that “I’m bigger than DMV” shtick when people in the DMV the block where you stay have no idea who you are), can actually put our heads together, get off our self-imposed ego trips and actually make, oh I don’t know, music…we’d get somewhere. Beef’s are a real part of life and not everyone will love everyone else, regardless of how much easier it’d make things. But, for the love of apple pie, at least try.

*changed from “year” on request of those that are in the “it’s just a year” camp. Even though, you’ve gotta admit: focusing on just one year is a bit corny.

While perusing the internet yesterday I managed to stumble upon this gem of a story. It’s about teachers using hip-hop as a tool to teach their students the fundamentals of science. I must say that I couldn’t have seen this video at a better time on a better day. After being told I shouldn’t write or share posts about “rap” music because of its negative connotation during a conversation I had with a very significant family member earlier in the day, I managed to find a video that displays hip-hop in a positive light. Given all of the negative rap lyrics that spew from the mouths of many current purveyors of the genre, it’s definitely a breath of fresh air to see it being used as an instrument for good. And while I can understand the reasoning behind certain people’s apprehensiveness toward hip-hop, I still appreciate the genre for its creativity and its ability to make a lasting impact on people.

People tend to forget that since its inception in the 80’s, hip-hop has always been a tool of expression, storytelling, and nostalgia. But where rap got its bad rap isn’t from the street corner ciphers, the boogie down Bronx block parties, or the poetic tales of black youth. It got its negative image from the vulgarity in the language, the excessive misogyny, and the hyper-sexualized and at times ultra violent images in its audio and visual representations. But, the problem so many viewers and listeners fail to understand is that Hip-Hop portrays realities. And whether those realities are caricatures (fictional) or biographical (real), every rapper is an artist in his or her own right. From vividly painting the experience of being a young black male in Compton on “…a good day” of a 1993 summer, to personifying a favorite art in an evolutionary tale of a maturing muse undergoing various trials and tribulations throughout H.E.R. life, Hip-Hop has always had the ability to take us places we’ve never been and teach us things we never imagined.

Hip-Hop is so powerful and can be used for such great things that it is a shame so many members of the older generation avoid its messages. But, a lucky few youths in New York City, are actually learning through the art of rhyme. I wish I would have had the opportunity these kids have when I was in grade school. When I was growing up, most of the music played in my household was rhythm and blues, 80’s pop, or jazz. My most fond memory, or what I call my intro to Hip-Hop, occurred during a 1990’s summer visit to North Carolina. At a family cookout, an older friend of the family put a tape in the tape deck and the first sound I heard was, “Wooooh ooh ooh” being harmonized by a young female who I would later discover was rapper/songstress Lauryn Hill, followed by a bass drop and a verse from an artist whose name I would later discover was prolific hip-hop artist Nas. The song was titled, “If I Ruled The World“. With Nas’ rhymes of hypothetical world domination and the actions he would take preceding it, I loved what I was hearing, I wanted more, and I have been hooked on the boom bap and the intricate cadences of hip-hop ever since.

So, what I have to say to those giving rap a bad rap is: WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW and see how hip-hop can positively influence lives.

DroppingScience