Why we need new music from Nas now more than ever
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.