Nas is impossibly gifted. His greatest flaw is a lack of focus, (something he admits in his “Ghetto Dreams” verse) an influx of ideas rushing into his lyrics, a byproduct of constant observation and a love or reading. He is contradictory, sometimes inconsistent, but no one has made me nod my head more than Nas has.
I notice all my flaws, when it comes to writing rhymes
Subject matter be changing too quickly at times
Two moments seem to define his career, (perhaps unfairly) his strong debut and his feud with Jay-Z.
Nas’s debut was a curse in a way. For pure hip-hop fans nothing he did could measure up to it. But asking Nas to do the same album over and over again would have been stale… and pretty much impossible. Artists grow, and their career has an arc. Nas is a template for what would have happened if Big Pun or Biggie had lived.
It was evident from his first recording, an unspeakably mature verse on the Main Source cut “At the Barbeque.” From this, Nas grew, and at one point his career seemed to be floundering. (This is from a debatable creative standpoint, Nas has 8 straight platinum albums. But no Grammy.)
Until his feud with Jay-Z.
Nas is like Eminem, 50 Cent or Marvin Hagler, in that it is a terrible, terrible mistake to attack them. Jay-Z would have destroyed pretty much anyone else, but he just woke Nas up. He dispatched Jay rather messily and since that moment, he has been a different rapper.
Nas combines gangster/street rap (he is the only person I’ve ever heard to perfectly ape G Rap’s style while on the track with him) with conscious rap, and in between he’ll throw in an insane concept or two. (Did he really tell a story in reverse? Seriously?) Even Nas was concerned with maintaining the balance of what he wanted to say with being relatable. It took him a career to get it right.
I saw my daughter send a letter to some boy her age
Who locked up, first I regretted it then caught my rage, like
How could I not protect her from this awful phase?
Never tried to hide who I was, she was taught and raised like
A princess, but while I’m on stage I can’t leave her defenseless
Plus she’s seen me switching women, pops was on some pimp shit
She heard stories of her daddy thuggin’
So if her husband is a gangster can’t be mad, I love her
Never, for her I want better, homie in jail- dead that
Wait till he come home, you can see where his head’s at
Niggas got game, they be tryna live
He seen your mama crib, plus I’m sure he know who your father is
Although you real, plus a honest kid
Don’t think I’m slow, I know you probably had that chronic lit
You 17, I got a problem with it
She looked at me like I’m not the cleanest father figure but she rocking with it
This morning I got a call, nearly split my wig
This social network said “Nas go and get ya kid”
She’s on Twitter, I know she ain’t gon post no pic
Of herself underdressed, no inappropriate shit, right
Her mother cried when she answered
Said she don’t know what got inside this child’s mind, she planted
A box of condoms on her dresser then she Instagrammed it
At this point I realized I ain’t the strictest parent
I’m too loose, I’m too cool with her
Shoulda drove on time to school with her
I thought I dropped enough jewels on her
Took her from private school, so she can get a balance
To public school, they too nurture teen talents
They grow fast
One day she’s ya little princess, next day she talking boy business
What is this?
They say the coolest playas and foulest heart breakers in the world
God get’s us back, he makes us have precious little girls
In an abstract sense, I think of hip-hop as percussion. The words rarely have significance to me at first, for most songs I have to go back and concentrate on what’s being said. Mostly I check out how the rapper fills the space. The words are like a drum solo, and there is no drummer like Nas. At times he gets ‘in the pocket,’ spitting out a head-snapping rhythm with such ferocity, you’re not sure his mouth will keep up.
Yo, I grasp the ratchet, the blinker, the biscuit, the burner
The heat, the toaster, the twister you meetin your owner
The banger, the hammer, the flamers I aim at the cannons
and can ya, manhandlin ya, you’ll be famous like cancer do
And cut, that’s the end of your movie
Pretendin you actin like you and your mens’ll come shoot me
My tennis shoes Gucci, old school pea soup green
Jean Lee suit on Beaver, clicko champagne
Friday the 13th my CD drop, I rhyme to more Base than EZ Rock
I’m Jason, call up P.D. watch
them Bravehearts, Jungle and Wiz and Nashawn
Ill Will rasta Lake, never revealin his face on
TV or pictures or even them niggaz
Sorry that I made you wait long, glad them fakes gone
On top of that, he is a master of the language, falling in love with writing and vocabulary when he was nine years old. All in all, Nas is a potent artist that’s literally good at everything. When he came out, they said he was the next Rakim. He ended up being better.