Last year, when I was still working as a radio prep writer for The Complete Sheet, one of my jobs was to write up the daily hip-hop news. And we gave extensive coverage to this upcoming Nas album.
The main reason: In some blurred line between a political statement and publicity grab, he announced that he was going to title the album the N-word. The actual word, six letters.
Naturally, that was controversial. And in the end, Nas ended up not using that title... he went with "Untitled". The reason stated: If he'd called the album "N*****", then Wal-Mart wouldn't have sold it. And I could probably write a 15,000-word essay on that decision and rationale alone.
But I'm not. Instead, I'm going to review the album in my patented* style. (* = patent pending)
Which means: Just listening to the 30-second samples on iTunes and giving snap verdicts. Because if the best :30 of each song doesn't hook me, then what chance does the full three- or four-minute song have?
"Untitled" has 16 tracks, not 11 like I would like, so I'm going to have to double up on some of the points on this list. It's cool. I can handle it.
The cover to the album, which I've reviewed listening to only eight minutes of music.
"Queens Get the Money" - I don't love it. It's short, at just 2:12, and I'm guessing that's because it doesn't actually have a beat. Nas's rap over a light piano melody is intricate and powerful, but not enough to make this feel like a legit track. It feels like this, the first song on the album, was just a warm-up.
"You Can't Stop Us Now" - I liked this one a lot. The 30 seconds got me interested -- the first two-thirds were a solid rap over (yet another) instrumental, minimalist beat; the final third was an unexpected but intriguing spoken word hook. The subject matter, as, I'm guessing, will be a lot of this album, is white America's treatment and disrespect of black people. And I'm totally cool with that, because, ya know, it's pretty much true.
"Breathe" - Forgettable. The beat is again lyrical, but this time Nas doesn't have the intensity to keep the track moving. The entire sample was a rap verse that sounded more sleepy than anything.
"Testify" - I'm grouping these two together because this is another slow, lyrical beat. In this song, it seems, Nas is beseeching his fans to not just buy his albums, but have his back. Couldn't he do that a little more energetically?
"Make the World Go Round" - This one has single written all over it. Firstly, it features Chris Brown and The Game. Everything they do gets released as a single. Secondly, most of the iTunes sample is a catchy hook... and the rest of it goes into a hard-driving rap verse. This could actually be a big commercial single for Nas. I hope the Wal-Mart buyers appreciate it.
"Hero" - This is, apparently, the first single off the album, even though I've never heard it before. I don't like it as much as "Make the World Go Round". The melody behind it isn't very strong, the rap seems fairly basic and I could take or leave Keri Hilson wailing on in the background.
"America" - I loved, literally, two seconds of the iTunes sample of this song. The rap was pretty strong, but, at about the 16-second mark, a soft, female voice singing a little melody bridged the verse for a few seconds... and it sounded brilliant. I would actually want to listen to the full track to see exactly what they did with it.
"Sly Fox" - A standard Nas rap (not that that's a bad thing, it's just a thing). The unique twist: It's over rock chords. That gives it a much different feel than any of the other tracks on the album. If Nas was more commercial, it might have an outside chance at being a single; but he's not, so it'll probably just go down among hip-hop circles as "that rock song on Nas's new album."
"N.*.*.*.*.*. (The Slave and the Master)" - I'm assuming this is, in Nas's mind, the signature track on the album... since this would've been the title track if he'd gone with his original title. So I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and hear the entire thing. For the sample I listened to, he raps passionately about the black experience over a serious instrumental beat. By serious, I mean the kind of minor key, intense instrumentation that you'd hear in the trailer for an intense gangster movie. So not "Be Cool", "Dick Tracy" or "Mickey Blue Eyes".
"Untitled" - I'm grouping these together because this one actually became the title track for the album. I'm having trouble distinguishing it from any of the previous tracks. Yes, it's a standard, quality Nas rap. Yes, it's a well-produced but ultimately unmemorable beat. I'm not sure about it. I've already forgotten it.
"Fried Chicken" - The track is featuring Busta Rhymes, but he was MIA on the iTunes sample. This is literally a song about how Nas loves fried chicken. Seems much less politically charged then the rest of the album, huh? Bonus points for this rhyme: "Created by southern black women, to serve mass to guests, you gonna be a n**** death. Mrs. fried chicken, you was my addiction, drippin' with high cholest." Cholest! Classic.
"Project Roach" - Once again, it's a nice, slow instrumental beat with a long Nas verse over it. This is another one that I probably wouldn't listen to again. It's completely passable, just not exciting.
"Ya'll My N****s" - Exactly the same. I feel like I'm getting redundant at this point. I know it's unreasonable to expect every song on an album to innovate... but at least I expect them to be distinguishable. More than half the stuff I've heard so far sounds the same.
"We're Not Alone" - This sample features the hook, which is a guy moaning "We're not alone" over and over. Which is a shame, because when the rap finally kicks in toward the end of the sample, it starts with some good wordplay. Nas really can't win with these samples.
"Like Me" - This is a bonus track. It's got strange whistling music behind it. I don't know. He sounds sad on it. Isn't he getting it on with Kelis? Shouldn't he be happier? Does he KNOW what her milkshake can do?
"Black President" - Here's a more high-energy rap. I'd like to hear more. At the very end it sounds like he samples 2pac saying "And even though it seems heaven sent, we ain't ready to see a black president." I want to see where he's going with that.
There were some real bright spots and some intriguing tracks but, overall, I feel like the album had too many standard rap/basic beat tracks to be a true standout.
Based on the iTunes samples, I give it a 7 out of 11.
This post was originally published on Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 08:46:38 PM under the category Music.