"Aiyyo, the brother's Stillmatic
I crawled up out of that grave, wiping the dirt, cleaning my shirt
They thought I'd make another Illmatic
But it's always forward I'm moving
Never backwards stupid, here's another classic"
With these vidid and phophetic opening bars, Nas triumphantly marked his return to real hip-hop and snatched back the crown from anyone claiming to be the king of rap metropolis New York. After the mediocre I Am... and the awful Nastradamus, the man that penned the masterpiece known as Illmatic didn't have much a career left as most people considered him a soul that was forever lost to the worst pits of commercialism. And just as the doctors were ready to give up and take his career off of life support, in 2001 Nas snapped out of his coma ready to resuscitate his meandering career as a emcee.
Once the celebratory keyboards of Stillmatic (Intro) leave the speakers and enter your ears, you can't help but realize you've come across something special. Something that a lot of time, energy and most importantly heart went into three things that were sorely lacking from Nas releases of old. Forget about juvenile boasting and wearing shiny suits with P. Diddy, this is a focused Nasir Jones.
The highly publicized feud with Brooklyn rapper Jay-Z played a large part in the return of Nas' hunger as he rips Shawn Carter a new bottom on the vicious return diss Ether, a reply to Jay-Z's Takeover. Nas has never been known for his battling ablility but he paints Jay-Z as an obsessed fan, accuses his opponent of biting his handle from former mentor Jaz-O, and puts an end to their bout with a clear-cut knockout. The blistering lead single Got Ur Self A... is proof that Nas doesn't have to resort to putting Ginuwine on a track to have a commercially successful song, and affirms that he can actually craft great singles.
Realizing one of his problems post-Illmatic was production that often couldn't keep up with his rhymes (see I Am... and Nastradamus), Nas brings back Large Professor to produce two tracks. He laces together a soothing instrumental full of slow, mysterious violin loops for the introspective You're Da Man, where Nas speaks on his position in hip-hop and in an almost remorseful tone acknowledges the fact that he fell victim to "women, fast cars and diamond rings."
Large Pro also contributes a funky beat for Rewind, perhaps the album's most creative moment Nas narrates a street tale in total reverse, he starts at the story's end and finishes with its beginning. It's one of those tracks only an emcee like Nas could pull off with such ease and is further evidence that the guy can still rock the mic harder than almost any rapper out there when he puts his mind to it. The one and only DJ Premier also returns to produce 2nd Childhood, a truly delicious showcase of Nas' storytelling skills and Premo's talents behind the boards the relaxed, summer vibe of the production and Premier's unrivalled scratching are über groovy, baby.
Innovation is also on the agenda for Nas this time around. Inspired by the classic Phil Collins song In The Air Tonight, One Mic is one of those tracks that leave you dumbfounded the first time you hear it thanks to its superb concept. After beginning the track very calmly with a soft-voiced flow, Nas' delivery and tone gradually become more urgent and passionate at the track progresses until the verse's end where he starts flowing quietly again before the next crescendo. The production fits the track's atmosphere beautifully, Nas co-produces the slick affair and does a magnificent job with its orchestral elements and great pacing.
Is the rest of Stillmatic as good as the tracks I've mentioned? Yeah, you could definitely say that. Nas and AZ deliver suave performances on The Flyest, but it's admittedly not quite as good as other collaborations the two have recorded in the past, the recent Essence from AZ's Aziatic is a better cut, for example. But nevertheless, it's a nice track and doesn't detract from any of the proceedings. With that said, on the first pressing of the album the atrocious Braveheart Party was included. It was so bad, in fact, that Mary J. Blige, who sung the chorus on the song, actually requested for the track to be removed from future presses. It's a good thing, though, because Stillmatic is a much better LP without it.
The album finishes on a political note, the Trackmasters sample a memorable Tears For Fears melody for Rule on which Nas takes shots at the United States government, urges political action to be taken everywhere and advises everyone to "stop acting like savages." Then as things come an end on What Goes Around, a wonderfully produced Salaan Remi cut, Nas touches upon subjects like karma and how the media affects the self-esteem of young girls while rattling off the names of numerous "poisons" in today's society.
Stillmatic is one hell of an album, and a special comeback album. In hip-hop, there have been few that have fallen off so far only to return at the top of their game. Few have returned with the raw hunger and passion that Nas comes through with on Stillmatic, and since I let him introduce this review, I'll let Nas end it:
"This is the rebirth
I know the streets thirst water like Moses
Walking through the hot desert searching to be free
This is my ending and my new beginning, nostalgia
Alpha and Omega places, it's like a glitch in "The Matrix"
I seen it all, did it all, most of y'all will pop for a minute
Spit a sentence then the game'll get rid of y'all
Y'all got there but y'all didn't get it all, I want my style back
Hate to cease y'all plan it's the rap repo man
To them double up hustlers, bidders, n*ggaz who real
Professionals, stick-up kids dreamin' for mills
Let my words guide you, get inside you
From Crips to Pirus, this is survival"
Other reviews of Nas albums:
Illmatic (10th Anniversary Platinum Edition)
It Was Written