The word “nigger” is defined as (1) a hateful slang term for an African-American person or (2) a member of a socially disadvantaged class. Perhaps the most derogatory term in the English language, it managed to become a term of endearment, a symbol of comradory, an in a sense, instilling the feeling of social/emotional acceptance. So is it still offensive? That depends on who you ask and that is one the most significant characteristics of Nas’s groundbreaking and exceptional untitled album. The artist also know as Escobar creates an opus that touches on every aspect of the word; its usage, its meaning, but all the while leaving it up for the interpretation of the listener to develop their own opinion.
With strong lyrics, a unique concept with relevant subject matter, and beats tailor made for the artist, you are taken on a voyage through the Black Diaspora both past and present to explain why the N-word is still a relevant word, positively and negatively. Beginning with the Salaam Remi produced “You Can’t Stop Us Now” feat. Eban Thomas of the Stylistics and the Last Poets, Nas navigates the vessel via word play, “…witch doctors, good ol’ pick pockets/Sip on moonshine/So called coons, shines, and darkies/I love y’all/Pyramids to cotton fields to Wrigley Fields/Forgotten men who did get killed/Crispus Attucks/The first blasted/Peace to the rich lady purse snatcher shot in the back…” On the DJ Toomp produced “N.I.G.G.E.R. (The Slave and the Master),” Nas describes the lives of everyday people as he sees it, “We trust no black leaders/Use the stove to heat us/Powdered eggs and government cheeses/The calendar with Martin , JFK, and Jesus/Gotta be fresh to go to school with fly sneakers/Schools with outdated books/We are the forgotten/Summertime coolin’ off by the fire hydrant/Yeah I’m from the ghetto/Where old black women talk about their sugar level…” He magnificently paints a picture of ghetto life where miracles are made from nothing and the very magicians who made it all possible are considered to be nothing more than, quite frankly, niggers.
But at the same time Nas compares “niggers” to roaches on “Project Roach” feat. The Last Poets, that clearly states that a word cannot be “buried,” let alone its usage and instead one should learn from it and not aspire to be one. On “Y’all My Ni**as” God Son takes on the meaning of the word head on, questioning its meaning and the treatment of the people who are called it while speaking from a personal standpoint as he rhymes, “Yo, I was thinkin’ a lil’ bit/What would it take for me to authenticate my nigganess/Ball ridiculous/26 inch rims when I call the dealership/Ah, that’s some nigga shit/We only out for our own benefit/we havin’ too many kids/We Claudines/Welfare recipients/ The infamous free clinics is the sickest shit/Make me wonder what the hell they cleaning their syringes with…”
On the lead single, the Polow da Don produced “Hero” feat. Keri Hilson, Nas addresses the controversy over naming this LP its original title stating, “…still in musical prison/And jailed for the flow/Try tellin’ Bob Dylan, Bruce, or Billy Joel they can’t sing what’s in their soul/So untitled it is/I’ll never change nothing’/For people to remember this/If Nas can’t say it, think about these talented kids/With new ideas/Being told what they can and can’t spit…,” questioning not only his own individual right, but how it effects society as a whole.
Nas also takes the time to address some of his own personal indictments. On the Stargate produced “America,” he touches on this country’s unfair practices while linking it to its some of the most degraded groups of people as he describes the some of the struggles of women, “…split her navel/Took her premature baby/Let her man see you rape her/If I could travel to the 1700s/I’d push a wheel barrel full of dynamite through your covenant/Love to sit on the senate/Tell the whole government/Y’all don’t treat women fair/She read about herself in the Bible/Believe she is the reason why sin is here/You played her with an apron like bring my dinner dear/She’s the real nigga here…” or on the Stic.man of Dead Prez produced “Sly Fox” describing the “fair and unbiased” coverage of not only the channel, but the business practices of the NewsCorp conglomerate, striking a cord with the current times like a true revolutionary.
With only a few guest appearances, this album makes the most of it with The Game and Cool and Dre co-produced “Make the World Go Round” feat. Chuck Taylor himself and Chris Brown and on the highly entertaining Mark Ronson produced “Fried Chicken” feat. Busta Rhymes extend the metaphor to venomous vixens that are so bad for you, but taste so good…. But the shining moment on the album has to be the DJ Green Lantern produced “Black President.” Maybe one of the most historic events to take place in modern history, Nas expresses his pride and reservations of Sen. Barack Obama possibly becoming leader of the free world, “…but on the positive side/I think Obama provides hope/And challenges minds of all races and colors to erase the hate/And try to love one another/So many political snakes/We are in need of a break/I’m thinkin’ we can trust this brother/But will he keep it way real/Every innocent nigga in jail gets out on appeal/When he wins, will he really care still…” It is this context that defines the album, looking at two sides of something and having to come up with a viewpoint for which to see it, often a very difficult and stressful situation.
The only flaw (if you really want to call it one) of this album is no fault of the artist. While today’s average hip hop listener is caught up in who is the latest so called up and coming king or what new trend is taking place, this LP will more than likely go over their heads due to its revolutionary content. And that is where the dilemma starts to form, should one try to conform to the appeals of the mainstream and convey their message around that premise, or should they speak from their heart even though it might not be statistically successful, offending many, and ostracizing them from the general hip hop/music audience? Honestly, that is up to the listener/buyer to make that decision. But one thing cannot be denied, lyrically and conceptually, this album is superior to any project that has came out as of late and Mr. Jones should be commended for this magnificent album, like it or not. – Ryan Harrison
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