Album Review: Untitled

I wanted to wait until the Soundscan numbers were in before I reviewed the new Nas album. Not for justification but out of curiosity. The numbers come out today (UPDATE: With 177,000 copies sold last week,  it’s the number 1 album in the country) and I wonder what the response will be for an album that is primarily not about all the things that so many dislike about music. Hip Hop especially. There is no gratuitous violence, no over the top worship of material things, no debauchery or misogyny. No dance instructions either in case you were wondering. None of those easy things to point fingers at and say it sucks or is irrelevant to real peoples lives. I’m curious as to whether the number will back up all the claims that people have of wanting better music or is it just what I think it is. A lot of people just regurgitate what they’ve heard others say without any real understanding of what they’re talking about. But it sounds good..ignorance is just so damn sexy isn’t it?

Years ago my mans Demond told me that whenever Nas retired he would probably stop listening to rap altogether. A statement I agreed with but I also said at some point there would be a new person to carry the crown, that the music would still matter regardless of whether Nas stayed in it or not. But its apparent more now than ever that the game still needs this dude around. Look, I‘ll say it how I feel it. The new album is a classic, I feel comfortable saying that after a week of listening to the album. It’s great, both for the music and the message. Especially the message. Especially the message if you are ready to embrace a new paradigm of thinking. Especially the message if you aren’t a punk.

Like most Nas albums there’s always that history lesson thing he does. Nobody name drops old people like this dude and I don’t personally know if he’s as smart as his music is (i’ve never interviewed him). I feel like most artists have a gimmick, it just depends on if this person’s particular gimmick effects you or not. Nas’ gimmick may be that he comes across as the smart, well-read street dude who wants to see a better world when really he doesn’t care. I don’t know. But I give him the benefit of the doubt. With this album I pretty much have to.

When I leave to go downtown or back home I travel through Columbus Circle. I shop there, its entertainment retail complex (CNN’s NYC offices are also housed there) and I go there to stop at Whole Foods a lot. The name is obvious but I’m also struck by the huge statue of Christopher Columbus that stands right in front of the Center paying homage to a man whose whole existence is full of you know what. You know, the whole American thing has and still is taught in school like it actually really happened. Nevermind the people there. Of course the people he came across were not Indians since it was, uh, not India that he “founded”. The indigenous people of the Caribbean island they landed on were called the Taino, who he along with his men and especially his two captains Martin Pinzon (who led the Pinta) and Vincente Pinzon (who led the Nina) brought these people existence to the brink and then over that to meet the gruesome face of extinction. So a foreigner with a strange name and a strange religion, from an ocean away came to this part of the world, chanted in a strange language and declared this land in the name of his King and Queen. If this happened now they’d be known as terrorists or hostile threats, but we celebrate it because we don’t know or care to know what the truth is. This happened on an island that used to be called Guanahini but from that day in the fall of 1492 was given a new name. We call it San Salvador now but whatever, that’s not the point i’m making.

The point is how history and mind control are oftentimes the same thing. When I gave you the name of Columbus’ captain’s ship you knew exactly what that meant. You know there is another ship too and you know that because you learned it in school. You never questioned it probably. Assumed it was right like we all do, like we are supposed to. Even in 2008 there are so many things people still don’t know or care about. Lies and misinformation lead to disgust and fear, which leads to destruction. We know this is true because we’ve all seen it.

Now how does this relate to Nas’ album? This is how. History gives you power, gives your respect, connects to others who have power and by its vary existence in your subconscious mind raises your expectations. The info above about Columbus I learned on my own, in college and by reading the books of authors such as Bell Hooks and Randall Robinson. Most people learn by old history books and propaganda. Because of that by and large America doesn’t respect the Black experience because America doesn’t respect Black people’s history. There’s this perception that Black people haven’t contributed much beyond entertainment to the general society. This album, called N*gger (save the fake controversy please), addresses the frustrations involved in that feeling, exposes the conditions born from it and offers ways to remedy the situation. It’s not a perfect album, but it doesn’t have to be perfect to still be important.

It’s a grown up album and I don’t mean that to say that its boring or without flaws. I mean that in it contains discussion worthy topics relatable to adults. There are good beats on here but if your primary concern is dance music you will be sad and unmoved by this release. All of you who are looking for disco rap please raise your hands and admit your b*tch-like qualities. Then at least we know who you are.

I’m haunted by the song “N.I.G.G.E.R” when I hear it I feel like I could have wrote I myself. (They say we n-i-double g-e-r/ we are/much more/still we choose to ignore/the obvious/man this history don’t acknowledge us/we was scholars long before colleges). It’s the frustration in his voice that resonates, the lack of respect for Blacks in this country really angering him. On “Testify” Nas is reaching out to “safe suburbia” and asking if all the people who are so anti-racism really care, if so then its time to put your trust fund where your mouth is. NYC is politically and emotionally one of the more liberal cities in America. And even here in this melting pot I come across people all the time who are so outdated in their thinking that its borderline amazing. People think all the hatred is banished somewhere in the Deep South or out in the fly-over states but it’s here on the East Coast too. It’s just that people in the big cities are more savvy (because there’s too much money involved not to be). So-called liberals who believe in equality still allow themselves to accept ignorance and disinterest.

On “We Are Not Alone” he talks about government conspiracies, on “Black President” about politics and on “Sly Fox” he keeps it real about the agenda of a certain cable news network. And he even enlists top name producers (Polow Da Don, Mark Ronson, etc) to make sure the music is as important as the message. I feel like I need to stress the fact that the production is far superior to his last album.

In no way is there a sense of hatred towards America and Nas even goes out of his way to explain that. The album’s real goal, it seems, is to tell the truth about our country from a different perspective. So yeah, there it is. It’s a great album from the best artist that this music genre has ever produced. Bootleg, download or purchase it. Whatever, just as long as you hear it.