18 months on from ‘Hip Hop is Dead’, Nas is back. Making the same grand, almost messianic messages, or rather – prophecies. This time, however, he isn’t heralding the death of an entire genre, but holding a mirror up to ‘the White World’ as second track ‘You can’t stop us now’ puts it. Nas is as angry as ever and it shows in the album’s belligerent tone, it’s anti establishment, anti discrimination, anti fox and anti whatever the ‘man’ (supposedly) represents. All the makings, you would think, of a classic, iconoclastic concept album that Bush’s America is crying out for.
Except – it’s not, and it’s slightly befuddling as to how Nas has failed to pull it off. 21st century America, the Bush Administration, the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina and countless other outrages related to race and otherwise should provide any outspoken rebel with all the ammunition they need to dress down the powers that be.
But instead, apart from a few tracks, the album is concerned with vague “Fuck tha Police/white people” statements of unfocused angst and frustration. The lyrics, the base of any Nas production, suffer from this lack of focus. Nas is either preoccupied with bellowing clichéd anti-establishment sentiments that most rappers and rock stars have long since moved on from. For example ‘Breathe’ extols the insightful message of “fuck the police and smoke marijuana” which is a completely throwaway theme to base a song on and is also one of the albums many apparently unintentional hypocrisies, that in trying to empower black people it reinforces many of the negative stereotypes that Nas would like you to think was wholly created by the ‘white world’.
Sly Fox, a clear anti corporation, anti Fox diatribe and one of the albums brief moments of focus, also suffers from maddeningly vague ‘rhyming for the sake of rhyming’ lyrics at the expense of a message, especially this gem. “The Fox has a Bushy tail/ And Bush tells lies and Fox trots, so I don’t know what’s real.” Which doesn’t actually make any sense and despite the revolutionary persona Nas would like to talk himself into with this song and much of the album, he seems more than willing to perform exclusively for Myspace, a Fox owned website and indulge in marketing deals with “white world” corporations, such as Fila.
And it’s that line that unfortunately sums up the entire album. If you switch your brain off, just let the album pipe in it’s intended and vaguely alluded to messages, without questioning it, without filtering what is actually being said, it is quite enjoyable I suppose. But it’s hard to do this when the album is so overtly confrontational and so in your face about it’s political nature. Ultimately the experience is an unenjoyable, preachy and, at times, hypocritical lecture. As well as perpetuating some of the black stereotypes of ‘the man’, Nas indulges in lazy, almost patronising, black and white (no pun intended) separations when it comes to race relations. White people as a whole are trying to keep ‘us’ (black people) down and we can’t do anything about it but smoke weed and ‘hustle’ as is hammered home in “Make the World Go Round” which features the cheesiest synths and tinniest drums heard in an album made this side of 1989, which is a problem that plagues the rest of the album.
The lack of lyrical depth renders the album dead in the water but it’s the music that puts the final nail into the coffin that is Untitled. It’s no coincidence that by far the albums best song “Queens Get the Money” is the track with the least instrumentation, the track favours a sparse piano melody in favour of ridiculously gaudy drums and synths. It is this lack of not only musical innovation but mere musical competence that stifles the album as even a lazy, casual listen.
There are, however, brief interludes of hope, the after mentioned Queens Get The Money is a surprisingly intelligent track with Nas showcasing his undeniable mastery of the English language and ability to rhyme; Hero is a light Hip-pop anthem that has some thankfully heavy bass drums after the musical nightmare that is ‘Make The World Go Round’ and Fried Chicken is an interesting attempt to rehabilitate a negative stereotype into something more positive, through comparisons with desirable females, although it does offer some cringe worthy cooking metaphors courtesy of Busta Rhymes who just about pulls it off by simply being Busta Rhymes.
These brief glimmers of talent and even competence aren’t enough to save the album. Untitled fails as a the serious socio-political statement it bills itself at; it fails as a casual entertaining listen. With this album it becomes clear that Nas needs to concentrate on the basics again before he takes on the world.
MP3: Nas – Hero