A lot of hip-hop critics’ criterion for great rap is in the combination of social criticism and delivery. I agree, and I don’t think anybody’s climbed further up that totem than Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones.
Hardly in his 20s, the self-educated, middle-school dropout’s debut, “Illmatic,” captured life in early ’90s New York ghettos with more imagery than any series of photographs and in truer, grittier, more dizzying prose than any novelist could. Or has.
Now 38, Nas debuted the video for “Nasty” yesterday, and if it’s any indication of the forthcoming LP, “Life Is Good,” then we’re in for another high-caliber album. The video was shot in his home neighborhood of Queensbridge, and just look how elated those little kids are to see him and mug for the camera. Actors can’t do that. Watch:
And now a few lyrical samplings:
Self-aggrandizement: • “Queensbridge leader, no equal / I come from the will of Ezekiel / to pop thousand-dollar bottles of scotch / smoke pot and heal the people.” • “I’m skinny, but I’m still too big for a Bentley” • “Gotta bunch a niggas in prison, braggin’, sayin’ it was Nas I used to hustle with”
Insults: • “Your flow cheap as limousine liquor” • “Any rebuttal to what I utter gets cut”
Philosophy: • “I guess entertainment means blatantly lyin’”
Allusions • Jackie Onassis • “Carlito’s Way” • Faith Evans • Michael Jackson
Nas’s technical game is as impressive as ever. I’m excited to see if his production and concepts on “Life is Good” are on par.
Playing Jimmy Fallon’s late-night show hasn’t pulled The Roots up from ... their roots.
Hip Hop/Rap Matt Carney
You can — if you concentrate hard — faintly hear a baby bawling at the
very beginning of The Roots’ new album, “undun.” That’s because the
record follows a fictional life that isn’t so fictional.