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Nas, “Untitled” (Def Jam) [2 stars out of 4]

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Having spent his entire career trying to live up to the promise of his brilliant debut “Illmatic” (1994), Nasir Jones needed to prove his ongoing relevance more than ever on his ninth studio album, especially after the commercial and artistic disappointment of his last effort, “Hip-Hop Is Dead” (2006). But Nas didn’t do himself any favors by engineering the genre’s biggest non-controversy since the feud between Kanye West and 50 Cent: Regardless of whether corporate politics, congressional threats or a Wal-Mart boycott was to blame in blocking the rapper from titling this disc the “N word” is irrelevant, because it was destined post-Imus to play as a cheap publicity stunt. As Chuck D. says, sometimes that’s the only word that fits, but if you use it, you can’t complain about the fallout.

“Write about what you know,” the age-old adage holds, and if the strength of Nas’ earliest work was his particular poetic take on the inner-city hell surrounding him, his recent attempts to pull back and look at the bigger picture have suffered from an increasing fuzzy-headedness, and he’s never tried to tell a bigger story than he does here, attempting nothing less than a sweeping socio-political analysis on the roots of American racism. But instead of a doctoral thesis, Nas delivers a high-school sophomore history paper that would be lucky to get a “C.”

“Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag,” Nas tells us in “You Can’t Stop Us Now.” “Bet she had a n----r with her to help her old a--.” Things get even more contradictory, simplistic and confused from there, with Nas undercutting his praise for Barack Obama (“Black President”) by defending dog abuser Michael Vick (“You Can’t Stop Us Now”), stating the beyond-obvious in “Sly Fox” (“Watch what you watchin’/Fox keeps feedin’ us toxins”) and somehow shifting from racial conspiracies to UFO cover-ups in “We’re Not Alone” (“Evidence remains in debate/Documents of our own Air Force base/Additional terrestrial information/Other planets with life population”).

Meanwhile, an all-star roster of big-name producers such as Polow da Don, Stargate, Cool & Dre, the Game and Mark Ronson craft the most lightweight ear-candy backing tracks of the artist’s career. At their best, they combine with Nas’ effortless flow to create jams appealing enough to score regardless of the lyrics (“Hero” or “Fried Chicken,” a light-hearted food-as-sex romp with Busta Rhymes). But nothing can save lyrically and musically weak tracks such as “Make the World Go Around,” “Queens Get the Money” and “Breathe,” and overall, “Untitled” is another half-baked offering from a talent who once seemed capable of much, much better.

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3 Comments

i haven't heard the whole album so i cannot offer a full opinion, but i have heard 'Queens get the money' and if you consider the minimalist piano loop by Jay Electronica to be weak or consider the lyrics to be poor, you either have an unrealistic expectations in place or, more likely judging by your blog output, are putting down Nas overall as a way to try to convince your inflated ego that you're somehow above the fray.

Derogatis, you are really off base. ive listen 2 the mix tape and the album several times (in the car, headphones, and at home). This is a strong album. alotta pop fans wont get its because the lyrics are not dumb down. even on the commercial efforts, nas is lyrically potent. the last verse on Hero is one of the strongest verses I've heard all year from any artist. This album problably wont go platinium or win any awards in the mainstream but i think well rounded hip hop fans will love it. nas, common, e. badu, lupe and similiar artists are having adult conversations with thier fans, and its going over the critics heads. of course, sex, money, and violence is mingle into this album thats been nas from day 1, even on illmatic. yet this album, starts to openly discuss what many young black men are talking about in the barbershop every weekend. I think this album will b highly respected a year from now. My favorite is "America".

Why is a Chicago Sun-Times pop music critic analyzing reviewing a Hip-Hop album? I'm amazed that there were absolutely no positive comments in your review at all. Nothing about how the content of this album (no matter how little of it you can understand) is 100% relevant to the youth of this country and our overall "tone" of race relations as a nation. There were no comments about Nas actually trying to make a positively influential album stand out amid a sea of watered down, menstrel show rap music. No wonder everbody is on the "Lil Wayne is the best rapper alive" bandwagon to Hell these days! I'm pretty sure this is the kind of thing Nas was addressing on the 2nd verse of "Testify"... I call that forsight. If Nas didn't already have you in his crosshairs, I would.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on July 10, 2008 9:41 AM.

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