Don’t Be Daft

[B]Nas Escobar[/B] travels limo class these days....

Nas Escobar travels limo class these days. But don’t worry, because when out cruising he doesn’t settle for sizing up his rivals on the MTV-tuned mini-screen. Here, as with his previous albums, ‘Illmatic’ and ‘It Was Written’, the doe-eyed lyrical savant bothers to unwind the tinted glass, absorbing the action outside.

Hence the added realism that sets him apart from most playaz. And as evinced by its title, ‘I Am…’ has the projects kid placing himself at the heart of the action. It begins with a risumi of his career, a medley of his hits. Then, with flashy accoutrements conspicuously absent, he toasts his triumphs and laments those who’ve fallen by the wayside.

Oh alright, there’s one flashy accoutrement: Puff Daddy, who grunts through the Hollywood blockbuster-style overload of ‘Hate Me Now’. Other collaborators are Scarface, Aaliyah and DMX. By rap terms, where guests usually arrive more frequently than at a birthday bash, this means Nas worked in solitary confinement, encouraging a cohesiveness that many hip-hop albums lack.

For producers he’s opted for Trackmasters, Premier and the ubiquitous Timbaland. But it’s with the former collective that he devises this album’s zenith: though ‘We Will Survive’ returns to the timeworn issue of homage to Tupac and Biggie, Nas‘ delivery is sufficiently emphatic to speak of hip-hop as a heroic, unifying force.

Dispatching brags (“I’ve gone from Seiko to Rolex”) comes easy to Nas. But with a view to righting a slew of injustices, so does demanding congress with the President on ‘I Want To Talk To You’. This, along with the bleak commentary of ‘NY State Of Mind Pt II’, encapsulates the sober mood of ‘I Am…’, hinting that Nas has won a Pyrrhic victory these last few years.

Indeed, as with Jay-Z, affluence doesn’t seem to have brought much joy. And aside from his ungainly attempt at speed-rapping on ‘Bit Things’, amid Timbaland‘s digi-beat storm, this album’s only flaw is that perhaps there could have been more wit. But no, Nas doesn’t do it like that, and you can’t blame him. So long as he keeps absorbing the view, he’ll score as arch urban sage rather than party jester. This, after all, is what makes this autobiography far phatter than the average 25-year-old’s.