Nas has a long history of courting controversy. In 1994, his gritty debut, Illmatic, was roundly hailed as a rap masterpiece — but seven years later, he was exchanging scathing dis tracks with Jay-Z, who claimed the Queens emcee had run out of creative juice. (The two have since settled their differences.) And in 2006, some younger rappers decried Nas’ choice to title an album Hip Hop Is Dead. But none of those dust-ups may compare to the feelings the 34-year-old artist stirred up last fall with a single provocative word, when he announced that his ninth studio album would be called N—–.
Nas ultimately chose instead to make it an untitled effort. Yet the rapper, still working nonstop at NYC’s Electric Lady Studios, remains dead set on recording his most fiercely political music ever. ”I always speak my mind on my albums,” he says. ”But I never had an album dedicated to saying what I feel about [current events].” Driven by beats from a varied cast of producers, including pop wizards Stargate (Beyoncé, Chris Brown) and the guitar-sampling Stic.Man of radical rap group Dead Prez, he’s speaking out on all kinds of hot-button issues. Indeed, the CD contains his definitive statements on everything from mainstream-media bias to the war in Iraq to, yes, the connotations of a certain racial slur — and that’s just in the four tracks Nas has completed so far. (Scheduled CD release: July 1)
NAS: TRACK BY TRACK
”Y’all My N—-s” ?
Nas defiantly addresses the controversy over his originally proposed album title (”No apologies on the issue/If it offends you, it’s meant to, simple as that”). ”There’s so much confusion with the n—– word,” he explains. ”But we should allow anybody to talk about who they are and not feel threatened or attacked because of it.”
”This Is Not America” ?
”America is beautiful, and it has so much to offer,” Nas says, ”but there’s a lot that it has to fix.” He offers some pointed examples here (”The death penalty/In Texas kills young boys and girls, barbarity”) over a simmering sample from David Bowie and the Pat Metheny Group’s 1985 single ”This Is Not America.”
Planned as a mood-setting interlude between proper songs, this track features even more venom and pride (”You ain’t as hot as I is/ All these prophets is false messiahs”) over a drumless, dissonant piano-driven backdrop produced by New Orleans newcomer Jay Electronica. ”He’s somebody I see being really big in the future.”
Fox News Channel, that is. ”Bush tells lies and Fox trots,” raps an outraged Nas. He’s particularly fed up with the way Fox pundit Bill O’Reilly criticized his sometimes violent lyrics last year: ”They say I’m all about murder and kill, kill/But what about Grindhouse and Kill Bill?” Cracks Nas, ”Man, Bill O’Reilly’s hatred toward hip-hop is hilarious.”