Nas : Stillmatic

'Nasty Nas' is back once again...

The release of ‘Stillmatic’ sees one of the giants of New York hip-hop in a tight spot. His first album, 1994’s ‘Illmatic’, is one of rap’s key texts; a tough, eloquent and political record which set stratospheric new standards right from release.

Since then, [a]Nas[/a]’s career has been downhill all the way, a fact articulated on the release of [a]Jay-Z[/a]’s ‘The Blueprint’ album. ‘Takeover’ saw Jigga brutally auditing his rival’s career : [I]”One hot album every ten year average and that’s so… LAAAAME!”[/I]

[a]Nas[/a] couldn’t sit back after a diss like that, and his response has been swift. ‘Ether’, the defensively-titled ‘Stillmatic”s second track, pelts [a]Jay-Z[/a] with stinging insults ranging from the personal to the professional ([I]”Eminem murdered you on your own shit”[/I]). Shame, then, that the music – a tinny digital fanfare more suited to a cheap alarm clock – is nowhere near as exciting.

The rest of ‘Stillmatic’ has the same half-realised feel. ‘The Blueprint’ showed how ’70s soul samples could lend a rich emotionalism to hip-hop without compromising the MC’s machismo. Poor old [a]Nas[/a] has to carry everything all on his own, and the strain shows over 17 tracks.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that lyrically, [a]Nas[/a] is pretty much back on form. At this time of intense American patriotism, it takes guts to call the US to account for the great evils visited by them onto the downtrodden; to say, fairly bluntly, that [I]”what goes around comes around”[/I]; and to dedicate a song to Che Guevara and Malcolm X (pointedly referred to by his Muslim name, Shabaz.

Other rappers may call him lame, but for this alone, [a]Nas[/a] still walks tall.

Alex Needham