Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Nas

  • Illmatic [Columbia, 1994] ***
  • It Was Written [Columbia, 1996] Neither
  • I Am . . . [Columbia, 1999] B-
  • Nastrademus [Columbia, 1999] Neither
  • Stillmatic [Columbia, 2001] Dud
  • The Lost Tapes [Columbia, 2002] B+
  • God's Son [Columbia, 2002] ***
  • Street's Disciple [Columbia, 2004] A-
  • Hip Hop Is Dead [Def Jam, 2006] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Illmatic [Columbia, 1994]
street poet as realist-not-fabulist--staving off alienation and defeat with whatever you got, sex-and-violence not excluded ("It Ain't Hard To Tell," "Represent") ***

It Was Written [Columbia, 1996] Neither

I Am . . . [Columbia, 1999]
Nas covers his ahzz. If in one song he's "wetting" (lovely word) "any nigga" (another) his fellow playa Scarface doesn't like, in another he's fomenting revolution: "Combine all the cliques and make one gang." Yeah sure. The question is how convincing he is, and only two themes ring true: the bad ones, revenge and money. His idea of narrative detail is to drop brand names like Bret Easton Ellis; his idea of morality is everybody dies. Ghostface Killah's "Wildflower" is far more brutal than the she-cheated-while-I-was-playin "Undying Love," and far less bloody; Biggie's "Playa Hater" is far more brutal than the Wu-Puff cameo "Hate Me Now," and far more humorous. Blame his confusion and bad faith on a conscience that's bothered him ever since he bought into the Suge Knight ethos. I've never met a ho in my life. This kind of sellout starts with a "W." B-

Nastrademus [Columbia, 1999] Neither

Stillmatic [Columbia, 2001] Dud

The Lost Tapes [Columbia, 2002]
Remember that posthumous outtakes CD Bad Boy attributed to Biggie? No? Good then--it was foul, not just ill shit but stupid ill shit. These finalized versions of tracks fans have long bootlegged is the opposite. Where the ex-dealer thought it wise to conceal his brutishness, the fake thug thought it wise to conceal his sensitivity. Surrounding outtakes that were just outtakes is back-in-the-day recommended to Tim and Missy (even has some pronunciation in it) and four autobiographical pieces. The two about his parents are juicier than the mother love gushing from God's Son. The Afrocentric pep song is so much deeper than the mawkish, misinformed new "I Can" that you believe he might yet get politics. And "Drunk by Myself" describes his alcoholism. Pass what Courvoisier? B+

God's Son [Columbia, 2002]
confessions of a mama's boy, tales of a hustler, lies of a mortal man ("Book of Rhymes," "Get Down") ***

Street's Disciple [Columbia, 2004]
Its double-CD sprawl is ambitious not hubristic, imposing not indigestible--squeezes onto a C-90. There's devil and Jesus-killer obscurity up front, electoral asininity later, but in general Nas finally seems comfortable with his (black) humanity. He's responsible, thoughtful, and compassionate, never mealymouthed, so that his political misprisions and retrospective sex boasts function like Eminem's latest sound effects--they keep him incorrect. If this means "Prescott Bush funded Hitler" is ignored on the op-ed page, Nas is barred from that realm anyway, and the information certainly does his faithful more good than, for instance, the distracting fantasy that Prescott's heir planned 9/11. The shout-outs to Bojangles Robinson, Stokely Carmichael, Redd Foxx, Fela, and Miriam Makeba are right on time. And when he and his pops get together on a blues, Muddy Waters is in the house. A-

Hip Hop Is Dead [Def Jam, 2006]
I wouldn't take him at his word -- especially when he says he's not going back to a street life there's no evidence he ever had knocked in the first place -- and I doubt he knows as much as claimed about the perks of his Escobar hustle: "watchin' fly bitches with grey eyes wrestle in a tub of KY," escaping a shoot-out with his milkshake wife, etc. The fun comes easier when he fools around with the title conceit, and even sometimes when he thinks about it. Rhyming "orange" with "showin'" and "pawn it," rapping in fake Bogie, playing the "black militant" to his former adversary and current sponsor's "black Republican," naming so many lost rappers I needed a hankie (Special Ed! Tim Dog! Fu-Schnickens! Shante!), he wants us to know he's an old-school MF who can afford efficiently state-of-the-art beats. Big worry: "Can't sound smart 'cause you'll run away." What to do, what to do? A-