An aging legend is a terrifying prospect in music. Far too often are excellent discographies tarnished by late era cash ins by a star who excelled in youth but has since run out of money and inspiration. Many artists have found success riding the middle ground of farewell tours, but when it comes to hip hop most artists are far too young to do this convincingly. As a result a huge number of aging rappers have sullied their argument for GOAT status with late career flops. So what does an aging legend have to do to get back in the spotlight? On NASIR the answer is plain and simple, hire a living legend to do all your beats. The resulting product is a record that not only avoids embarrassment, but convincingly adds an argument for Nas as a GOAT candidate.
Newer fans of hip hop may not appreciate how bizarre the combination of Kanye and Nas is. Yet despite the long dried bad blood between Kanye’s former biggest supporter and Nas, the pair works wonderfully together. Each beat on this record absolutely shines, in particular the beats for “Bonjour,” “everything,” and “Adam and Eve” could be counted among the best of the Wyoming era. Nas himself is in top form, helping to make NASIR memorable in much the same way that DAYTONA was by adding precise, skilled flows, though his lyrics are at times questionable. In fact should any major complaints to be levied at this album they will almost certainly be aimed directly at Nas’ lyrics. On “Not For Radio” Nas delves deep into conspiracy theories about how “Edgar Hoover was black” and “Fox news was started by a black dude.” Given the current climate regarding conspiracies and the damage they have wreaked on American democracy over the past two years, these lyrics come across as exceedingly tone deaf and detract from a stellar chorus from 070 Shake and a strong first verse about black excellence and empowerment. Unfortunately he continues on conspiracy theories, strongly implying an anti-vaccination stance on album centerpiece “everything.” Further hamstringing the lyrical content of the record is Nas’ continued nonchalance regarding the abuse allegations brought against him by (relation) Kelis. This is especially egregious on “White Label” where he brags “Chin grabber, neck choker, in her mouth spitter, blouse ripper, ass gripper.” and “Want her ass the fattest, beat it, thriller jacket.” In fact the allegations hanging over Nas make every lyric regarding women deeply uncomfortable and hold the album back from ever feeling truly exceptional.
Yet when the lyrics aren’t problematic they’re exceptional, and the beats are unimpeachable. The second track “Cops Shot the Kid” features an excellent Slick Rick sample as it’s backbone, though the gimmick can grow somewhat old on repeated listens. Outside of that track, “Bonjour,” “everything,” and “Adam and Eve” are clear standouts. “Bonjour” boasts one of the lushest Kanye beats this side of Graduation. The track is bursting at the seams with swelling strings and a casual lounging piano. “everything” is a deeply emotional track with exceptional vocal contributions from both Kanye and The Dream on the chorus. Production wise the track shines with Kanye’s signature crisp drums and a choir backed melody. Lyrically this song features Nas at his best, (mostly) steered away from misogyny and conspiracy and targeted at the struggle of the black community. “Adam and Eve” again showcases the vocal talents of The Dream, and a lazily strummed guitar and crisp drums with a tittering piano line. It also has more focused, non controversial lyrics from Nas, though most of it is typical braggadocio he does manage to switch into potent lines about his struggles coming up from time to time.
NASIR is a welcome addition to the oft inconsistent discography of Nas, adding a late career glimpse of excellence. Kanye again manages to take an artist who oozes potential and gives them a perfect canvas to showcase their talent while giving them a palpable bump in popularity. NASIR will doubtlessly be the most controversial album of the Wyoming projects due to the allegations surrounding Nas. Yet even outside of a vacuum the album manages to shine with a brightness that is undeniable, netting Nas his most significant album in more than a decade.