Friday, February 27, 2009

Half Man, Half Amazing

While hip-hop fans spent much of the 1990s arguing about the relative supremacy of Biggie and Tupac, I was thinking the argument wasn't really legit if Nas was left out of the conversation.

On the strength of Illmatic alone, Nas deserves consideration as one of the best rappers of our generation. But don't get me wrong: Nas has been a prolific and important artist well beyond his debut album.

I'm not one to dwell on the good ol' days of his career. It almost seems silly, especially when you sort through his actual catalogue. A second Top 10 list could be made of the songs that didn't make the first cut.

Anyway, first the honorable mentions: Halftime, Thief's Theme, Ether, U Gotta Love It, Get Down, You Know My Style, 2nd Childhood, Made You Look, Doo Rags.

10. Silent Murder - This line has always stuck with me: "Was it the mind of CIA that bumped off Malik Shabazz?/Fuck what they teach in class, I'ma reach the mass." An 8th-grade dropout that made good. Paired with the sample from Soul II Soul's "Get a Life," this one is a classic.

9. One Love - With Q-Tip handling the production, Nas sent out an unforgettable love note to everyone in lockdown. You could easily consider this a sort of social statement, especially given the disproportionate numbers of black men in prison (which hasn't really gotten any better since '94): We haven't forgotten about you.

8. New York State of Mind, Pt. II - I like this one a lot better than the original on Illmatic. Could be that I simply preferred DJ Premier's production on this version.

7. One Mic - Great concept, great execution. I gotta admit that it took awhile for this song to grow on me. Seems like that happens to me a lot when it comes to really good, complicated music. Sometimes I have to ignore my gut, so to speak.

6. Where Y'all At? - This never made the cut for Hip Hop Is Dead, which is too bad. This is the song that album was missing.

5. I Gave You Power - Once again, Nas came up with an interesting concept: a narrative from the perspective of a gangster's gun. Seems simple, but not many have the skills to pull it off.

4. No Idea's Original - My favorite of Nas' numerous mixtape releases and, thankfully, it actually made the cut for The Lost Tapes. Love this part: "On a different coast, but we share the same sunlight/Your part of the world, might be like colors and gangs/While on my side, brothers will murder for different things/But it all revolve around drugs, fame and shorties."

3. It Ain't Hard to Tell - The entire song is a Hip Hop Quotable. And it marries nicely with the track from Large Professor. In fact, it's really hard not to install this joint in the top spot. But everyone can't be No. 1.

2. Nas is Like - Just when people had started to write him off, Nas and DJ Premier teamed up again for what I consider to be his best post-Illmatic song. Even the video feels familiar, just Nas in a booth with a mic, Primo on the 1s and 2s, and the camera panning across the backdrop of New York. This has always been Nas' element and it's obvious.

1. The World is Yours -More than anything, this song represents the artist Nas was and has always strived to be: introspective, boastful, humble, profane, thoughtful and political with a taste for the material. No one has blended those competing instincts quite so well. And it all spills forth on this awesome Pete Rock-produced track.

In retrospect, it's no small wonder that many people consider Illmatic to be Nas' best album. Here's the producers who contributed: DJ Premier, L.E.S., Pete Rock, Q-Tip. That's a virtual murderer's row of hip-hop architects, no?

And what's crazy is that my favorite album of his might be It Was Written. The sequence changes with each spin, much like the order of these songs. If I did this list three months later, the order might be reversed and some songs might not make the cut.

I don't know if I can say about many other solo hip-hop artists. Which means that if we're ever talking G.O.A.T.'s, I'm always going to bring God's Son into the conversation.


avery said...

oooooolllll!!! you done done it now!

If I wasn't in the middle of that 25 albums joint, I'd be >< right here! I'ma hafta come back and see about this later.

blackink said...

Take your time, man. I ain't gonna be doing too much more writing through the weekend.

Just a links dump and that's about it (including your list of 25. I like that meme). I'm probably going to rifle through my old Nas albums this weekend, too. I'm already second-guessing myself.

avery said...

for sheer comedy, an honorable mention has to go to These Are Our Heroes.

blackink said...

Ha. Yeah. On the real, you could probably easily come up with a 10 worst list from him too.

Most of "Nastradamus" was absolute gar-baaage.