Nas Is The Greatest Storyteller of All Time! – 10 reasons why

A few years ago, I took it upon myself to write a list in the makeshift studio setup that my crew, The Balance, used to operate out of. This list broke down all of the qualities that define a great rapper by most popular definitions into categories like flow, personality/charisma, lyrical depth, etc. I felt it important because most of us Hip-Hop listeners never think critically about why we like the rappers that we like. Sometimes, we just like folk simply because we do and for no deeper reason than that. Yet it’s more common and logical to deduce that we like who we consider our favorites and “bests” because they excel in a certain category. It’s super rare for a rapper to encompass exceptional talent in a multitude of these categories all at the same time, and for those who do, we should recognize what a feat that is and give it more respect. More often, we can’t separate who we like from our opinions on their technical skills. That in mind, I’ll start with an example that expresses the art of doing so perfectly.

My opinion of Mr. Jones may be steeped in scrutiny and indicative of a complex love-hate listener relationship. And though I wouldn’t consider myself a fan, he was absolutely right on “Ether” when he said “name a rapper that, I ain’t influence” (one of the few truisms in that overhyped song). This includes me.

Slick Rick may have reinvented the wheel, and Biggie might be everyone’s favorite, but the Storytelling ethic of Nasir Jones is unrivaled and unparalleled. He perfected and owned it. He’s tackled Story-based rap from so many conceivable angles that it would be futile for another rapper to try to keep up. Effortlessly playing with characters, personification, linear dimensions, flow, pacing, conceit and metaphor, with a crazy attention to detail, this is why he’s a legend. He may be the most contradictory rap artist in history, and he may be deficient when it comes to making commercial bangers or bragging raps or even staying on topic when he’s not telling stories, but this is where you can truly see Nas’ genius. Here are some of the best examples.

10. ONE LOVE

A cult classic. Tho most of Nas’ stories revolve around violence and street fare, this is the seminal track that planted his flag as the new hood novelist. It resonated with so many street dudes and people with folks locked up. And it was just sooooo New York.

9.  BLAZE A 50

An unreleased track that many Nas fans consider a gem and one of his most action-packed escapades where he actually restarts the tale towards the end.

8. PUSSY KILLS

Not many are familiar with this one, but that’s exactly what Nas did flawlessly here; made you feel familiar with characters he introduced in a likely situation about a very understandable topic. All while making a larger philosophical point. Pussy does indeed kill…

7. GETTING MARRIED

Speaking of which…this vivid and candid story takes on a whole new significance in light of how this matrimony unfolded. Not his best ending either – lyrically or literally.

6. SEKOU STORY/LIVE NOW

This 2-part saga reflects on Nas’ allegiance to a hustler he befriended who’s wife seeks his help after his murder and then offers advice as the plot takes an unexpected turn as Nas reflects on his own life.

5. FETUS (Belly Button Window)

Say what you will, but not too many cats out there can rap about their own prenatal existence and birth.

4. FRIED CHICKEN

The Nigger raps about fried Chicken as if it were a lady, while telling a loose history of it’s love affair with the American Negro. With an assist by Busta. Who’s doing shit like this??! Nobody else.

3. REWIND

For the simple fact that he pays enough attention to the cohesion and theme of the story that he actually says words backwards, this conversation and list should be done right here! The fact that the beat borrows from a 80’s rap classic only heightens the fact and adds poetic justice.

2. UNDYING LOVE

This is my favorite Nas story. It’s so cinematic that you would swear you were his accomplice. My only gripe is that he says he prays to “Muhammad and Allah” at the end. Uhh..Hey guy with the Islamic name, you should know that Muhammad is the prophet and Allah is God. Lots of Muslims would be trying to put your head on the chopping block after hearing that part. Especially because right after that you follow it with a suicide

1. WHO KILLED IT?

It doesn’t get anymore creative than this. Give him his props for switching up the flow (Which he rarely does, but kills it whenever he puts effort in) and fully diving into a character and maintaining it for the whole song. On top of that, he incorporated double entendres, dialect and dropped food for thought. Aha!

And just for the Hell of it, because this is the standard that all post 90’s rappers modeled their creative and conceptual rhymes from and because it really does stand in a class by itself for redfining the story rhyme, Here you go…It can’t even be put on a list.

If you remember the album, It Was Written, then you remember that the song before this “Street Dreams” kept ending in a gunshot sound after every break, so after the final break a short skit ensued where people were running from that gunshot as it was depicted as a club shooting where the gunman tossed the weapon away and then Nas begins his monologue. It was true album artistry. He just set the stage for this song to feel important. And it was. indelibly so…Sure, Common did it before him with “I Used To Love H.E.R.”, and Pharoahe Monch and Organized Konfusion did the gun/bullet thing first, but Nas made the world pay attention. Even 2Pac had to try to 1up him after hearing that.

And there’s alot of songs that I could’ve added here, like “Poppa Was A Player”, “Drunk By Myself”, “2nd Childhood”, because his arsenal of stories is so immense and colorful, but you’ll find it hard to debate with me on any of this here. Give him the crown. “It’s one life, one love so there can only be one king”.

Hot 16…Or More… “FRIENDS”

This is a track that I had been wanting to write since the inception of the very first Crazy 8’s mixtape. Don’t ask me why….I just always wanted to flip the “If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)” instrumental and take it back to it’s original sample from Whodini‘s “Friends” and their original subject of discussion. I had Nas‘ version of the beat sitting around for 2 years, then I finally wrote and recorded it. I wanted it to be simple, just like the beat – because let’s be honest, it’s not a crazy mindblowing instrumental or anything. It’s just a casual 80’s hip-hop break with an unassuming thump. What was most important to me was getting my thoughts across about how I felt about friendship in general. I had just experienced some fallbacks and fallouts with some homies involved in music as well as an unecessary confrontation with a jealous boyfriend of a former female associate of mine who I was catching feelings for. This was all pre-Facebook Malik, so I had lost contact with alot of folks and regained contact with more than I’ve ever had at once, all via the Myspace era. It was a great atmosphere for this kind of track to come out. So on the deluxe version of The Crazy 8’s, I gave you

“Friends” (here I’ll share verses 1 and 2)

VERSE 1

“Fuck friends, relationships and everything with it, (A nod to Nas’ opening line on his version of this song)

I think different…

Dj Q45 (as in the dude who hosted Rap City when I appeared on it and told me to take his information down only to never respond when I reached out) witnessed…

How the boy made history (I was the first unsigned rapper ever to get a whole interview and booth time on BET’s fabled and now defunct hip-hop video show)

-simply a born winner at winning things,

but even Q45 switched it!

-an,

Fronted on me like he really in that position,

really, he should feel priveleged that his name gettin’ mentioned!

And that goes for any journalist, with any conviction,

who missed it when I was hitting them to get ’em to listen!

And I know that sound bitter but I did it,

cause I knew if I started off dissin’ – it would get your attention.

Now for today’s lesson – it’s the business of friendship;

this can be the beginning of a beautiful ending.

Cause some friendships is kept, cause what it took…

To maintain it, but the strain that it can start up to put,

is just as bad as if you let it fall apart – need a push!

I learned from experience and Dale Carnegie (the esteemed author of the infamous How To Win Friends And Influence People) books about…

Friends!!”

VERSE 2

“It’s hard for me to say I Love friends,

cause I done fucked friends,

and made enemies out of shorty’s husbands! (I’m using this term loosely and literally)

And I would like to tell you that it never happens often, (key words being “I would like to”)

I just lost a friend because her boyfriend was hawking!

Stalking…

Checking messages, sending threats – but since,

I’m a threat to him – he should’ve took that as a lesson in…

Women,

cause if you don’t attend to them and treat ’em like a gem then,

they gon’ get it from the next nigga who’s willing and…

I do admit I overstepped a bit,

talking all that sex an’ shit,

but it all began with being friends and then

Again…

It goes to show that men and women wasn’t ever meant to just be platonic and that’s the end of it.

So to my friend – Ms. – to the death I miss you,

guess we’ll meet again when that nigga’s your ex,

best of wishes…

My best friend in high school was a girl,

guess your friends are reflections of how you view the world

– We was lames!

Ain’t even know how to scoop a bird

– we became,

grown men, pimpin’ – grew some nerve!

-rearranged,

metamorph us out into the world

people change

That’s why I’m conscious how I use the word; (most important line of the whole track)

Friends!!”

 

Hope you learned something…

 

To listen to or download this track, click the mixtape cover below

Hot 16…Or More…”The Cross (Bringin it Back To NY Remix)””

Another one of the early tracks I recorded when I first arrived on the scene post Fall of 2006, this song arised out of an oppurtunity to appear on a Tapemasters Inc. Mixtape when mixtapes were still all the rage.

The myspace boom had helped me reconnect with alot of people (and damn near got me into serious beef with an old crush’s dude). One of these people was my boy Lavell “Vegas” Evans. We had linked up and started doing some R&B writing and collaborating as he introduced me to a slew of his creative team. Most of these people went to the famed Alma Mater of 5Towns College, where my homies ChellezBoogie, Krystle and Hasan Insane attended and rubbed elbows with the likes of Chrisette Michelle (who I had the pleasure of meeting along the way).

Another of these such peoples was a Photographer/producer who goes by the name of John Shotti. He was then apart of a production duo, Shotti and Lefty and had recently released a dope concept mixtape that mashed up Prince’s classic music with Cam’ron songs.

Since he and The Tapemasters were peoples, he reached out to me when he was working on a track for their Nas dedication tape that was slated to release to promote his Hip-Hop Is Dead album coming out (see; Tapemasters Presents Nas – The N; Resurrection). The track that resulted was a smoothed out version of the Eminem produced “The Cross” off of the God’s Son album, which I think is better than the original. Shotti added all kinds of sampled harmonious voices, light drum kicks, and even got a real saxophone player and spoken word artist to round things out. He went in as a producer! He told me he chose me because he wanted to reshape it to have that feeling like we were bringing New York City rap back to the forefront (back then, that was a major concern to most East Coasters) and I was a good choice for it. And so became my very first serious mixtape placement. Not like Tapemasters showed me love or remembered me when it was time for me to release my own mixtape later on…but I digress…

I was summoned down to the music lab in The New School, in a room to lay my verse right then and there on limited time. The boy Jesse Boykins the 3rd was in the room and I remember writing the verse on the spot and having to  do it in just a few takes. But it came out quite nice. I may even be so bold to say I gave Nas a run for his money, but I’ll let you be the judge of that. Remember these are ’06 lyrics;

“They say New York’s been soft since them buildings fell,

Nigga we are sick! – we ain’t feeling well,

put the apple on their heads like William Tell.

Re-animated, Shotti got Malik to Murk these punks,

(I),

Rihanna haters;

“I don’t wanna be a Murderer!”

The Cross Bearer – Iam permanent,

Ya’ll just temporary – my contemporaries got,

learner’s permits.

I been riding clean,

with the NYC plates since,

In my teens,

Hey!,

M-16, nigga he don’t play!

What he say is law like them Ricos – This Maliko’s Way,

Maricons keep reaching for my Chips and they get Frito-Layed!

Straight out of Harlem is the Secret Weapon

-we gon’ speak for skeptics, who been throwing Salt,

he just bring the Pepa!

(I’m Hot!)

Kriss Kross me,

can’t jump the King,

-Ain’t no checkers – this Cross means,

They not Punking me

-No!,

Ashton Kutcher – I’m hooder than pumpkin seeds,

They try ta’,

Spit on New York like Pumpkin Please!

Citizens, consider Mr. 1,6 in this Bitch again as the Christening for all those who’ve been listening

To Rap at it’s worst,

The game keep gettin Fucked,

cause it’s no Birth Control, like the Catholic Church!

The Cross”.

Hope you learned something.

Here’s that song;

http://www.zshare.net/audio/70363372668a0537/

“Damn These Chains”

Classic Sounds….

Like…

Nasir Jones’ sophmore release was the Very First album that I sought out and purchased myself.  I was 13 and figured it was time for me to define my music taste and hip-hop expertise by actually owning some full length albums made by the very artists who I spent hours upon hours sitting in front of the radio recording. So as I outgrew the craft of sticking pieces of toilet paper in the corners of whichever of my big sister Veen’s tapes I deemed wack or something she wouldn’t miss, it dawned on me that even though I was Thee Nicest at the skill of strategically pausing the recording right before the station identification, or the annoying Funkmaster Flex drop would come on, Maybe I should join the actual big boy club and have the uncut, uninterrupted project in my hands. Maybe then I’d know just what these Euro-chic and gangster flick references were about that all of the popular New York rappers at that time sprinkled in their raps .

Nope!

I still Never quite understood any of that,

but what I was surprised and ever so pleased to find was a full print out of almost all the lyrics contained on said album.  I bought It Was Written in the summer of 1996 at a Wiz in downtown Manhattan. I’m really showing my age here because If I’m not mistaken, The Wiz doesn’t even exist anymore! Anywhere!

But this purchase was on the heels of deciding that Nas was the most relatable rapper to me at the time. I didn’t know I was going to be a rapper. I had…uhhh…retired after a 2 year stint in a kiddie rap group a la Da Youngstaz. The thing is that, this particular summer would be the first time since I was 10 that I picked up a pen to attempt to start rapping again. It was actually the first time I picked up a pen, since I used to write my rhymes in my head (Word to Big!).

But anyway, Nas fueled my inspiration to re-enter the world of hip-hop and write narrative street tales because in the previous year, the spectrum of New York rappers was limited to killers, drug dealers, players, hardcore keepers of the funk, or obscure backpackers who nobody wanted to be.

Nas represented someone who strangely sat in some semblance of a middle ground where all these characters existed together.  No one ever questioned how hood he was, but the general consensus was that he’s not the shooter, rather the guy chronicling the shooting. Not the kingpin, but perhaps the guy who was cool with the Kingpin’s people and maybe did some jobs for him back in the day on the come up trying to stay fly.

We respected Nas for being something that we never had before; An authentic street poet. Not a preacher like Chuck D, Not a Teacher like KRS, Not a God like Rakim, not a Killer like Kool G, Not a gangster like Ice Cube – not even angry. Just a poet.

So I figured, I’m from the Hood, My teachers told me I was an excellent poet in school. I can slide in that same spot that Nas Held. He opened a door that wasn’t there before.

This was all until I popped the cassette in (yes I said Cassette) and got engulfed in a blitz of Mafioso-drenced, King of New York delusional episodic raps and psuedo-intellectual musings on Hood happenings.

I would find out later that this album was filled with subliminal shots at the other contenders for legendary status at the time, and was actually Nas’ idea of attempting to garner mainstream attention. I guess in a way it worked, because he got much more notereity from the singles released off of this album than his debut. Although Illmatic gets all the praise and critical acclaim, it’s not up for debate that chics or radio weren’t checking for mr. Jones until “If I ruled the world” featuring the then unstoppable (and sane) Lauryn Hill came out.

Anyway, I loved this album so much that I took it with me all the way down to Atlanta that same month when I went to spend some time with my cousins who had recently moved there from Brooklyn. They were fans of M.O.P. (Who they grew up with), and anything that was New York-Centric, so I knew they would love it as much as I did. And they did. We played it in the house, in the parking lot, on the way to Kroger. On the way to Publix. On the way to and from the studio and the airport. It was fun times.

Until somebody’s little daughter was over one of the apartments with us, and as the video game playing and beer drinking ensued to the soundtrack of  track 7 “Take it in Blood“, there was one moment of parental instinct that kicked in when my female cousin Rainy interjected and told us to cut it off after some lyric where Nas blurts out “..Pussies and Buttholes…”

At first I was like damn, why we gotta cut off the Nas just because somebody’s little bebe kid is over here with the grown ups (and uhmm…almost…grown-ups??). But then it made me wonder, damn… as someone who didn’t use those kinds of words himself, how much did I actually relate to Nas? And what the Hell was Nas talking about anyway??

So upon a more scrutinizing listen after that epiphany, I realized that Not even Nas knew what he was talking about half of the time.  Although I was blown away by the creativity of “I Gave You Power“, it seemed those clear, focused moments of consistent and linear lyricism and storytelling were few and far between.

I studied the whole lyrics sheet for the rest of my ATL stay and I still didn’t understand  most of what I was reading. What the fuck is “Blood money in a pimp’s cum” ? That math equation that he clearly wrote for Foxy’s verse on “Affirmative Action” not adding up, “dipped attache” “mad man Cassius Clay“…huh??! The average casual hip-hop listener couldn’t tell you what Nas’ point is on the average Nas song. It just sounded good. And there you have the biggest thing about hip-hop; The sound.

And the sound is what makes this such a classic to me. Besides all of the sentimental attachment I have to this album, the biggest influence it had on me was that sonically, it was like nothing else.

It proved that hip-hop had matured to a point where you can defy the standard and rap over MUSIC. This was music. These beats kind of set a marker for Nas. He became known for picking these melodious instrumentals to tell these cinematic story raps over and it was a perfect marriage.  The beats on this album were straight up Beautiful! haha!

Nowadays you only hear these kinds of beats on underground projects and rarely on Major releases. Yet ironically, these are the very kinds of beats that are behind most peoples favorite songs on most albums. Those songs that are the most memorable, and have the most feeling to them. Almost every song on this album had that kind of sound.

Some of the beats outshadow the rhymes due to Nas’ habit to dip into non-sequitters and randomness, not to mention overall unbelievable claims ( “Take it in blood” being a prime example), But my favorite moments are when he gets it just right and makes perfect sense all throughout one song with the perfect beat. The next best thing is when enough of the verses are followable and it’s just that damn dope that you don’t even care if it’s the most authentic or logical.

Having that said, my favorite songs off of this album are

“Black Girl Lost”

“Watch Them Niggas”

of course this hidden gem that only the cassette holders (such as myself) knew about – “Silent Murder”.

Despite all my perceived gripes with this body of work, it remains the very album that started my collection and began my journey. Anybody who knows me knows that I have a Love-Hate relationship with Nas and it’s due to his inconsistency of Character, and sometimes hunger (“Live Nigga Rap” is the only track on the album where he doesn’t sound asleep. Maybe Mobb Deep put the battery in his back). I would say he’s a victim of how people envision him as some kind of prophetical griot who is just so deep, but he Fuels and fosters that very idea himself in the midst of delivering the most blatant contradictions hip-hop has ever seen way beyond anything 2pac could have done. He’s shown that he wants to be considered the King of New York as bad as Jay or Big wanted to, he just dressed it up with less glitzy fanfare and didn’t say it straightforward. He rarely says anything straightforward!

But it’s all because he’s a hodgepodge of things. As noted on the album he exhibits this himself when he professes “I’m all about techs, good jux and sex, Israelite books…” when you start a sentence off like that, where the fuck else can you possibly be going??

While he may not be My Favorite rapper, he is definitely one of my biggest influences, and this album changed my life and the way I view rap albums forever.

If  I may be bold enough to rate it on my 16 Candles scale, I would say it falls just short of Phenomenal and give it 12 Candles out of a possible

4, 8, 12 or 16.

4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)

8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)

12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)

16(Classic all around)