HOLD STILLMATIC

Why we need new mu­sic from Nas now more than ever

Sharp - - GUIDE - Pre­sented by Tim­ber­land By Yang-yi Goh

LAST YEAR, on his op­u­lent ninth stu­dio record Ma­jor Key, DJ Khaled dropped a song called “Nas Al­bum Done.” In case the track’s ti­tle aroused any sort of con­fu­sion, Nas him­self spelled things out in as clear terms as pos­si­ble: “My al­bum done, n***as, wait and see,” the Queens­bridge leg­end rapped at the end of the sec­ond verse.

It’s been 14 months since that procla­ma­tion, and we’re still wait­ing. Nas’s last solo LP, Life Is Good, came out in 2012, mak­ing this his long­est stretch be­tween records since he ar­rived on the scene fully-formed with 1994’s Ill­matic. There’s no deny­ing

that Mr. Jones has been busy of late: he ex­ec­u­tive pro­duced the re­cent Net­flix se­ries The Get Down and spent the sum­mer tour­ing with Lau­ryn Hill. He’s also launch­ing the “Leg­ends Col­lec­tion” — a lim­ited-re­lease se­ries of Tim­ber­land boots avail­able ex­clu­sively at Foot Locker Leg­ends Club lo­ca­tions. Each monthly drop (Vol­umes VII – X) will be ac­com­pa­nied by a se­ries of an­i­mated shorts that de­tail Nas’s per­sonal jour­ney. But given all that’s hap­pened over the last year or so — Brexit, Trump, North Korea, Hur­ri­canes Har­vey and Irma — it sure would be good to hear his voice again.

Yes, I’m aware that de­mand­ing new Nas mu­sic in the wake of se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal and en­vi­ron­men­tal tur­moil is a bit like that old Dave Chap­pelle “Where is Ja?” bit. And sure, there are plenty of more so­cially con­scious rap­pers than Esco we could look to right now (Killer Mike, I see you). But when he’s locked in and fo­cused, the 44-year-old’s plain­tive, de­tail-driven sto­ry­telling re­mains among the most pow­er­ful and in­ti­mately mov­ing forces in Amer­i­can mu­sic.

Need proof? Lis­ten to the third verse of the Ill­matic joint “One Love.” Nas doesn’t just con­vey the ev­ery­day stresses of life in the projects — he puts you right out on a Queens­bridge bench, shar­ing a blunt with a kid named Shorty Doo-wop, who’s strapped up and wear­ing a bul­let­proof vest and afraid for his life. Or try the open­ing bars of “Get Down,” the first song on 2002’s God’s Son. In just over a minute, he paints a vivid im­age of ‘70s king­pins cruis­ing the streets, re­flects on nearly com­mit­ting homi­cide as a drunken teen, and then trans­ports you to a court­room scene that takes a turn for the worse.

Nas’s best work doesn’t just speak to you. It dis­rupts, trans­forms, en­light­ens. You fin­ish his clas­sic al­bums with an em­pa­thy and un­der­stand­ing you didn’t have when you be­gan. And when faced with some of the ug­li­ness we’ve wit­nessed in our most re­cent his­tory, couldn’t we all use a lit­tle more of that em­pa­thy right about now?

In June, Nas gave The New York Times an up­date on his al­bum, which re­mained not quite as done as he’d claimed last year. “Two weeks,” he said. “I al­ways say I’m two weeks away from fin­ish­ing.” As far as we’re con­cerned, those two weeks can’t be up soon enough.

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