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The Nigger Tape > Tha Carter III

As Artie Lange would say, ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.

The Nigger Tape, the mixtape Nas is putting out in advance of his new album, Untitled, or as I like to call it, Pwned by Al Sharpton, hit the Internets yesterday, and so far I’ve enjoyed listening to it about as much as I’ve enjoyed listening to any rap album this year. (I know.)

Never mind Tha Carter III, which is gay; or that Wale mixtape, which isn’t even as good as that other mixtape he put out at the end of last year (I guess it just didn’t fall at the right point in his hype cycle). The Nigger Tape features the guy who put out the best rap album evar, according to the Internets, spewing about contentious race issues. And the production is mostly at least passable!

Being a mixtape, of course it has to walk that fine line of not giving away too much of the real album for free, and yet, still having enough heat on it to be a worthwhile listening experience in its own right. (Having the mixtape be a huge shit sandwich obviously wouldn’t be a smart move, marketing-wise.)

The solution Nas and Green Lantern have come up with here is to feature a bunch of Green Lantern remixes of what I’m assuming are songs that are gonna appear on Untitled in their original form. A few of them we’ve heard before, like “Be a Nigger, Too” and “Black President,” while a few of them are news to me. All told, there’s five different Green Lantern productions on The Nigger Tape.

If there’s an issue with this move, it’s that, as a producer, Green Lantern is just aiight. His best quality, so to speak, is that he at least knows better than to traffic in anything other than ’90s-style boom bap. In that sense, he’s like Salaam Remi, the guy who’s done a lot of the throwback-sounding stuff on the last few Nas albums, except even more so.

It’s also a weird proposition, in that you run the risk of having people become familiar with the remix before they even hear the original. Which would actually make the original – in theory, at least – sort of like the remix to the remix. My bad, if I just lost you. Maybe they figure these Green Lantern productions are so bland it won’t make much of a difference anyway.

As far as songs that haven’t been given the Green Lantern treatment, the main draw is probably “Hero,” the Polow da Dan production that hit the Internets the other day. If you notice, Green Lantern makes a point to talk over the beginning of it and cut it up a few times, lest mixtape downloads start to cut into iTunes sales for the single. I wonder if he was ordered to do that.

Glossy as it is, it kinda sticks out like a sore thumb, but I can’t say I’m that mad at it. I could do without the layers of sheen, and the broad singing on it, but standards have been lowered to such a degree these days, I can’t even imagine it will get played on the radio much. It’s got too much rappin’ on it. It’s probably not gonna be the next “If I Ruled the World,” despite having a similar keyboard part.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the stic man from dead prez feature, “Association.” Nas has been talking up it, along with his collaboration with Jay Electronica, in interviews – obviously as part of an effort to patronize the kind of people who’d be impressed by that kind of thing. I’m gonna lie, I was a little bit psyched for it myself, but it turns out to be kind of a bland non-event.

Listening to it, it’s obvious all they did is take a track from one of these middling dead prez solo records and tack a couple of Nas verses onto it. The other guy from dead prez pulled something similar for one of the bonus tracks on the forthcoming US release of K’naan’s classic-in-Canada Dusty Foot Philosopher. (Seriously, you might want to try that out.) You’d think dead prez would want to put its best foot forward for such a high profile feature, but I guess not.

And here’s one more complaint, just to round things out. The song “Esco Let’s Go,” which I’m assuming might be an album cut on Untitled, features the following, which could very well be the dumbest few bars Nas has spit to date: “Asked Elizabeth Taylor, when did ice turn to bling? She said, Nas, it’s because y’all rock tiny diamonds in the biggest chain. You the first nigga in the game that said, fuck fame. You the fifth nigga in the Beatles, the 10th nigga in Wu-Tang. So let your nuts hang!”

But that’s just me complaining. Obviously, no one listens to Nas albums for production choices that make sense, or lyrics that consist of anything other than pseudo-intelligent drivel punctuated with bits of silly provocation. I imagine that, for a lot of us aging haters, The Nigger Tape would be worthwhile in a sense, if only for the trainwreck value of watching one of the legends in this game disappear up his own ass. But some of this shit is even actually kinda good. Let’s just hope the album itself follows suit.

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