Nas’s albums always have a funny way of catching listeners off guard. Whether it’s his sonic jumps from Nasty Nas to Escobar to Nastradamus, or his evolving views on life, the Queensbridge MC keeps fans on their toes. Along with his multiple personas, two things have remained constant since 1994’s Illmatic: his hood-hero status and refusal to dumb down. Now 10 years into the game, this two-disc album finds Nas abandoning his former “King of New York” barbs for straight-to-the-gut rhymes, but it could be argued that this should’ve been squeezed into one. Though the throwaway tracks are few (“Rest of My Life,” the inexcusable “Suicide Bounce”), the upsides bang out nicely, and are tempered with an air of nostalgia. Doug E. Fresh lays the beatboxes on “Virgo,” Nas takes it way back with the “Unauthorized Biography of Rakim,” and the beat for “You Know My Style” invokes images of a young Jam Master Jay on the boards. The long overdue “These Are Our Heroes” takes shots at some of today’s Hollywood Step ’n’ Fetchit’s, even calling Kobe Bryant “Toby.” Hopefully the nickname sticks.
Flat out, it’s a powerful retro album. Nas gets to exhale and brag about new wife Kelis, even.
Jonathan Cunningham writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.