Kanye finally fulfils his promise to Barack Obama with NASIR; Nas’ 11th album executively produced by the genius himself. The backdrop for this dream-like conception is a powerful politically charged photograph by Mary Ellen Mark. The tracklist is also a short 7 songs evoking thoughts of another concise Nas project; Illmatic. Expectations are high to say the least.
Unfortunately, this album does not live up to them. By choosing to use Nas’ real name and using a photograph of black youth in turmoil during the crack epidemic, I expected a focused and thought-provoking statement piece. With the feverishly high chaotic climate of society as of late, I really thought this was going to be Nas’ big statement on modern society. With him being a father of two kids who have grown up during this time and with his ex-wife Kelis’ comments on him exhibiting very abusive behaviour, he must have a lot to say.
The album opens with “Not for Radio,” which works as a nice opener as Nas spits with an emphatic passion that comes off as a way of returning power to the kids seen on the cover. There is, however, that second verse where Nas goes on a tangent about conspiracy theories which brings the anthem to an awkward standby.
Nas dusts himself off quickly and bounces back with the standout cut “Cops Shot the Kid,” featuring a stellar verse from Kanye West. Hearing that Slick Rick sample repeatedly while looking at the album cover is a haunting experience.
White Label is a wasted Kanye beat. This essentially runs as a braggadocios song from Nas which is fine in most cases, but there was a real chance to make another statement here. I look at that photograph and from the Shahram Shabpareh sample, I repeatedly hear, “I’m gonna…” and with each repetition of the phrase I think, “I’m gonna… what?” Persevere? Stop the senseless violence? When Nas finishes his verse I have my answer, “I’m gonna… stunt on these people.”
Bonjour is a wistfully romantic instrumental that evokes scenes from Casablanca, but next to that picture are lines about crackheads who owe Nas from ’89 and metaphors for how you should punish your friends if they overstep your boundaries.
Everything featuring The-Dream and Kanye West sounds beautifully serene, but Nas once again misses the mark with his performance making up the weakest parts of the song. With the lines about thinking differently than everyone else, I’m convinced that this song was actually intended to be on Kanye’s album since this speaks more to him rather than Nas.
Adam and Eve is a dope standout where Nas’ strongest verses on the album sit with an excellent chorus from The-Dream.
NASIR ends with “Simple Things,” which is a simple, but solid ending for the album. I especially enjoy the last words of the album being, “I just want my kids to have the same peace I’m blessed with,” which could be a nice reference to his previous album, “Life is Good.” Nas, however, fails to dig deep and tends not to stray from surface level observations and with his contemporary Jay-Z’s open book approach since 4:44 it won’t go unnoticed that he didn’t speak on Keli’s allegations. Like I said, Kanye definitely kept his promise to Obama for him to produce a Nas album, the production is great, but maybe Obama should’ve been more specific. Instead of just asking for a Kanye West produced Nas album, maybe he should have also added that he wanted a good one.
Kanye West provides some great production bringing Nas to the end zone, but he ultimately fumbles the ball instead of scoring the touchdown.