Saturday, December 26, 2009

Classic Cuts


Rap and hip-hop (yes, there is a huge difference) are definitely my favorite types of music, but I’m sometimes embarrassed to admit this due to the terrible state of the music today. Believe it or not, rap music used to be good. Really good. Nas’ debut album has been consistently in my rotation since the first time I listened to it about 10 years ago. Not only is this arguably the best hip-hop album of all time, but one of the best albums of all time, regardless of genre. The influence this album has had on hip-hop music is unprecedented, and it’s a shame nothing of this caliber will ever be released again. Nas put the east-coast on the map with this album, and here’s a track by track synopsis.

The Genesis (album intro)- a lot of listeners usually skip over the intro, however, on this album the intro tells us everything we need to know about Nas. The album kicks off with the sound of an elevated train with dialouge from the film “Wild Style” over the train, which represents New York and hip-hop culture, then goes into Nas’ legendary verse from Main Source’s “Live at the BBQ” (“Streets Disciple my raps is trifle...) The rest of the intro is Nas and his crew bulshitting over a grimy, simple beat produced by Irv Gotti (yes, that Irv Gotti), that sets the tone for the rest of the album.

New York State of Mind- Arguably the best hip-hop song ever made, and one of my personal favorites. My favorite story about this song is told by DJ Premier, who produced the song. According to Premier, Nas had no idea how to start the song and was having trouble catching the beat and figuring out how to rhyme over it. Eventually he just went in, and did the whole song in one take, which is unbelievable considering the complex rhyme schemes and story telling taking place in the song. “New York State of Mind” offers a haunting view of New York through the eyes of a 20 year old ghetto kid during the early ‘90s. Nas raps about robberies, drug use, and shootouts with acute imagery, and makes them sound poetic.
“I never sleep ‘cuz sleep is the cousin of death. Beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined, I think of crime when I’m in a New York state of mind.”

Life’s a Bitch- One of the realest songs on the album, featuring a very young and still underrated AZ. The song is extremely dark, and retraces their roots and struggles growing up in one of the many ghettoes of America. Nas and AZ have a chemistry that is unparalleled, and they still continue to rock it whenever they got on a track together. After dropping a verse each, that should be envied by every rapper to get on the mic, the song closes with a beautiful trumpet solo from Nas’ father. A very interesting song, and one that I find myself listening to with my jaw at the floor.
“I switched my motto, instead of saying fuck tomorrow, that buck that bought the bottle could’ve struck the lotto.”

The World is Yours- My favorite transition on the album, Nas goes from an extremely dark, somewhat depressing song in Life’s a Bitch to an uplifting, optimistic song with The World is Yours. Nas raps about the troubles facing him, but how he keeps attempting to overcome adversity and eventually making something of himself. He talks about his son and daughter, and how he finds strength in them when his back is against the wall, and his hope that they will lead a better life than the one he chose. A beautiful and uplifiting track, and one of my favorites of all time.
“Whether cruisin in a Sikh’s cab, or Montero Jeep, I can’t call it the beats make me fallin asleep. I keep fallin, but never fallin six feet deep. I’m out for presidents to represent me.”

Halftime- when a true lyricist absolutely kills a track, you know that your listening to something special. That’s exactly how I feel every time i hear Halftime, from the very get go (Nasty Nas in your area, about to cause mass hysteria) you know shit is about to get serious. He raps with great confidence, his ability to pick up women during the afternoon and hit the matinee at night, and his refusal to get a girl pregnant because it would force him to spend money on kids instead of Philly blunts and weed.
“In ya, stereo sets, Nas’ll catch wreck. I used to hustle- now all I do is relax and strive, when I was young I was a fan of the Jackson 5. I drop jewels, wear jewels, hope to never run it, with more kicks than a baby in a mother’s stomach.”

Memory Lane (Sittin’ in the Park)- a nostalgic track where Nas raps about his life growing up in the projects of Queensbridge. The song represents the changing face and landscape in Hip-Hop during the early ‘90s. It marks the transition from the party and dance songs from the late ‘80s to the grittiness, and realism of lyrics during the ‘90s. Nothing more to say here, the song speaks for itself.

One Love- one of the coolest songs I’ve ever heard. Nas raps letters he wrote to his incarcerated friend about everything that is going on in his life, and around his neighborhood. For fans of the movie Belly, the scene at the end of the movie when Nas is smoking a blunt with the little kid with the gun is taken straight from this song- which just goes to show few can tell a story like Nas can. “One Love” offers brilliant imagery, and can really put the listener right on the corner of his neighborhood seeing everything that he is seeing and living.
“Sometimes I sit back with a buddha sack mind’s in another world thinking how we can exist through the facts written in school text books, bibles, etcetera. Fuck a school lecture, the lies get me vexed. So I be ghost from my projects, I take my pen and pad for the week hittin L’s while I’m sleepin. A two day stay, you may say I need the time alone to relax my dome, no phone, left the 9 at home.”

One Time 4 Your Mind- I always have mixed feelings when it comes to this song; sometimes I absolutely love it, and sometimes it feels like my ears are being poisoned. But I feel like that’s exactly how he wanted the song to be like, to really flip people’s minds to show that he controls the album and knows exactly what he wants the listener to feel when he’s listening. Lyrically, the song is decent, but probably the weakest on the album with no real substance, but rather just braggadocio rhymes about how great a lyricist he is (but we already know that from listening to the rest of the album.)
“The parlayer, I’ll make ya heads bop Pah, I shine a light on perpetrators like a cop’s car. From day to night, I play the mic and you’ll thank God. I wreck shit so much, the microphone’ll need a paint job.”

Represent- the most aggressive song on the album. Nas raps about his transformation as a young child committing petty crimes, such as breaking into the candy store, to carrying a gun and committing robberies with his crew. “Represent” is a shout out to all the people living below the poverty line in New York City, who have to commit crimes just to get by.
“Cold be walkin with a bop and my hat turned back, love committin sins and my friends sell crack. This nigga raps with a razor, keep it under my tongue- the school dropout, never liked that shit from day one. ‘Cause life ain’t shit but stress, fake niggaz, and crab stunts, so I guzzle my Hennessy while pullin on mad blunts. The brutalizer, crew de-sizer, accelerator, the type of nigga who be pissin in your elevator.”

It Ain’t Hard to Tell- just when I thought Nas had already used up all his best lines on the previous 9 tracks, the album closes with a song so quotable that it almost puts the rest of the album to shame. Every time I listen to this song, my face gets completely blown away; in fact I’m listening to it right now and my ears, nose, eyes, and mouth are now scattered throughout the room. Few albums end on a better high note, and even though my favorite song changes almost daily, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” will always hold a special place in my heart.
“I exhale the yellow smoke of buddha through righteous steps. Deep like the Shining, sparkle like a diamond, sneak a uzi on the island in my army jacket linin. HIt the Earth like a comet, invasion, Nas is like the Afrocentric Asian, Half-man, Half-amazing.”


Even though I have listened to his entire album thousands of times, I never get sick of it, and like a great movie, I notice something new every time I listen to it. It’s important to pass along this album to every one, before it gets forgotten in the shit storm that is auto-tune, Hip-Pop, and all the other horrific music coming out these days. So please, do yourself a favor, sit back, light something up, and listen to this album....often.

No comments:

Post a Comment