Finally, “Escobar season begins.” Nasir (Mass Appeal Records/Def Jam), the fourth addition from Kanye’s Wyoming Sessions marks the return of Nas after a six-year album hiatus. Continuing the seven-track format, and clocking in at 26:35 minutes, the album has glimpses of greatness, but feels incomplete when it concludes.
“Not For Radio” sets things off effectively as it’s hard not to get hype with Diddy on the adlibs and the epic sounding choir singing throughout. Nas gets back into his politic/woke bag stating, “Abe Lincoln did not free the enslaved / Progress was made / ’Cause we forced the proclamation (Fuck ya proclamation) / S.W.A.T. was created to stop the Panthers…”
The aptly named “Cops Shot The Kid” featuring Kanye West follows up with its Slick Rick sample and excerpt from a Richard Pryor stand up. The two emcees delve into police brutality and inequality in America in a simple yet direct manner. Kanye holds his own spitting, “Tell me who do we call to report crime / If 911 doing the drive by?”
It’s a strong start to the album with the first two songs, but a hiccup follows with “White Label” — a throwaway track, from the unimpressive lyrics to the production. Ironically on it Nas mentions “So cheers / Here’s to the Kanye production this eve.” Though not terrible, the beat on “White Label” pales in comparison to everything else on Nasir. But because “Bonjour” is perfectly orchestrated — from the piano keys to the crooning of Tony Williams — the previous blunder is quickly forgotten.
Arranged as an album, it’s hard to grasp what direction Nasir is headed.
Nasir closes out leaving conflicting emotions. “Everything” and “Adam and Eve” are absolute standouts; even when Nas doesn’t sound completely at home on Kanye’s production, the emcee’s lyricism carries the rest of the way. But with Illmatic having had only nine tracks and an intro, it’s hard to cut Nas any slack for not knocking it out the park on every cut. Arranged as an album, it’s hard to grasp what direction Nasir is headed. It suffers from a serious lack of cohesion. Factoring in the timeline from DJ Khaled’s “Nas Album Done” in 2016 to the release of Nasir, one can only conclude this isn’t the album that was hinted at completion back then. And unfortunately, it shows.
Main photo by Adrian McKenzie, from Urbanology archives.