The Lost Tapes

Nas

Columbia, 2002

http://www.islanddefjam.com/artist/home.aspx?artistID=7312

REVIEW BY: Jedediah Pressgrove

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/29/2011

Nas is nearly unbeatable lyrically when he’s on. I’ve listened to his debut Illmatic about a hundred times, and I’m still not sure if I’ve picked up on every profound or clever line it has to offer. This is why Nas can be very disappointing. He hasn’t come close to matching the overall greatness of Illmatic, though we continue to hear his lyrical virtuosity from album to album.

Ironically, his strongest album since Illmatic seems to be The Lost Tapes, a compilation of tracks that were recorded while Nas worked on I Am and Stillmatic. Fans collected these underground songs before this official release. As you can see, the tapes weren’t actually lost, but the title as it stands sounds cooler than The Unreleased Tapes (and even that title becomes a lie once you release the album).

Getting back on point, if we can agree The Lost Tapes is better than everything after Illmatic (many would cite Stillmatic at this point), we can conclude that fans know more about what makes Nas great in comparison to record producers. This raises an interesting question: does a great poet require any organization to his work? If we like what we hear on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Lost Tapes, we are unconcerned that these songs weren’t planned and packaged as an original album, and we clearly don’t give a shit that none of these songs are singles.

These songs are disconnected in that they don’t represent a single theme or sound, but we can experience Nas the poet and the many things that this can mean. If one’s introduction to Nas were “Drunk By Myself,” for example, one would think he is a destructive, though fascinating, force. I had been listening to Nas for a while when I first heard this song, but I was taken aback by its honesty and how uncomfortable it made me: “Steering wheel in my hand / Trying to hold it steady / Anything in my way is dead / That’s the way I feel I am already / When I’m drunk by myself all alone in the zone / Drunk by myself.” But what’s the next song you hear? “Black Zombie,” an intelligent commentary on the complacency of black Americans. Nas is a complex and unpredictable artist.

In “Poppa Was A Playa,” Nas details everything from his father teaching him how to stand up for himself to catching his old man fooling around with a mistress. Nas knows people have two sides, and with startling precision he is able to appreciate positive qualities and expose moral weaknesses. Indeed, the rapper can’t escape his duality. For listeners it might be troubling that for all his talent, intelligence, and awareness, Nas still has what one might call gangster swagger. He’s just as likely to relay his success as a thug on “My Way” (“I live for street glory and I die for ghetto fame”) as he is to lament the cycle of crime on “Purple” (“Somebody tell these shorties to reach for the stars / Instead they tell ’em how to reach through the bars”).

The Lost Tapes has at least one obvious weakness. The majority of the tracks have appropriate beats and melodies, but the three-song stretch starting with “No Idea’s Original” and ending with “Everybody’s Crazy” features questionable production. It’s almost as if these tracks were put in the middle of the album with the hope that no one would notice the limp beats and awkward loops.

I wish I could have been one of the people who, before The Lost Tapes, were discovering cool Nas tracks that were deemed irrelevant or inappropriate by decision makers. That is the ideal way to listen to a poet. The Lost Tapes achieves this effect in a limited sense and thus deserves our attention.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 2011 Jedediah Pressgrove and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia, and is used for informational purposes only.