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Production On Nas “Untitled” LP

I finally got around to listening to the new Nas LP, and since Esco apparently doesn’t care about his music being leaked, I figured hey I might as well give folks a little review of it from a production standpoint. Untitled drops next Tuesday.

First off, let me just say that I had ZERO expectations for this album. I truly don’t care about Nas’ track record in hip-hop, his legendary status, his past successes and flops, all the hype about the name of the album being changed, none of that…. There are only two types of music to me, good and bad. All the talk about Nas and this LP will cease if people think it sucks, bottom line.

That said, here’s my rundown.

01. Queens Get The Money (Produced by Jay Electronica)-I have no real idea what the allure of Jay Electronica’s track was to Nas or why he chose to rhyme on it, but it’s an alright little introduction that does well to sort of let Nas just go off for a few minutes. I’d probably rather hear Jay Electronica rhyme on this than Nas, because it’s one of those looped up cinematic piano backdrop pieces with no drums that Jay sort of did with Eternal Sunshine.

02. You Can’t Stop Us Now (feat. Eban Thomas of The Stylistics & The Last Poets) (Produced by Salaam Remi)- already discussed how Rza killed this track more than Salaam did. Nas’ song as a complete vision is better than Rza’s though.

03. Breathe (Produced by J. Myers & Dustin Moore)- this joint is pretty-smoothed out, but not in a great way like “Hey Nas” or even “Black Girl Lost.” Sounds like it should have been on Hip-Hop Is Dead because the light electric piano chords have the same “sleepy”(read: boring) feel as a lot of the shit on that crap sandwich of an album.

04. Make The World Go Round (feat. Chris Brown & The Game) (Co-produced by Cool & Dre & The Game)- I never thought I’d see the day Nas would be doing a record with Chris Brown, but hey the guy’s gotta survive the times, right? Game keeps the name-dropping sorta to a minimum, I guess. Somewhere in the middle of the song Chris Brown is singing about 2-stepping, wtf? Who wrote this shit? The beat is a big triumphant synth melody with some cool little analog sounds sprinkled in the background over some standard 808 claps. It’s pretty good.

05. Hero (feat. Keri Hilson) (Produced by Polow Da Don)- by now you’ve probably heard Polow Da Don’s updated version of “If I Ruled The World” with the 2009 Lauryn Hill aka Keri Hilson. This joint is all sprinkly synths over hard drums, and Nas is energized like he drank 3 cups of coffee or blew a couple lines of coke up his nose (the more likely scenario) before he hit the booth. Seriously, this is the most animated he’s been on the mic since “Hate Me Now.” This shit is fucking crazy. Easily Polow’s best beat since Rich Boy’s album dropped, which I guess says something about his output lately.

06. America (Produced by Stargate)- Stargate easily make up for that annoying wannabee techno bullshit they did for Neyo (“just can’t stop”) with this joint, which is just straightforward hard drums and string chords with Nas rhyming about his impression of this country we live in.

07. Sly Fox (Produced by of Dead Prez)- surfaces! This shit is like some rock/rap hail to the chief-style track. It gets better the more you listen to it. At first I wasn’t feeling Nas rhymes about Fox, not cause I like Fox, but just cause I thought the hook was some paint by numbers shit, but I guess it’s alright.

08. Testify (Produced by Mark Batson)- one of the hotter joints on the album to me. Just some chill-out instrumentation over some cool drum programming. The rhodes and piano kill it for me.

09. N.I.G.G.E.R. (The Slave And The Master) (Produced by DJ Toomp)- Toomp continues his strong of incredible tracks, but his drum programming and sounds are beginning to get a bit predictable (think: Jay-Z’s “say hello”). I’ll forgive that because Nas actually references chicks dying their hair with Kool Aid.

10. Louis Farrakhan (Produced by of Dead Prez)- this is another really strong beat from It’s got these really dope horn swells over some very live-sounding drums. But it’s backed by these atmospheric chords, which give the track a real spacey feel. And Nas is kind of a space cadet, so this works.

11. Fried Chicken (feat. Busta Rhymes) (Produced by Mark Ronson)- I heard this on the radio the other night but missed Nas’ verse, just heard Busta, and immediately thought, wow I’m going to have to start paying attention to Busta again. Lo and behold it’s a Nas song. Probably my favorite track on the album. Got this real soulful sound to it, complete with the guitars and horn section. I’m glad it’s Nas on this, and not Amy Winehouse.

12. Project Roach (feat. The Last Poets) (Produced by Eric Hudson)- the concept of this is pretty self-explanatory, Nas rhyming from the perspective of a roach in the projects. How creative. My only beef with this song is it’s too short. Eric Hudson comes with the jazzy backing track

13. Ya’ll My Niggas (Produced by J. Myers)- this should have been left on the cutting room floor. J. Myers funky guitar plucks are cool over the straightforward 4/4 drums, but I dunno, I guess it’s just too happy-sounding.

14. We’re Not Alone (feat. Mykel) (Produced by of Dead Prez)- another jazzy-style track, with some dope piano playing on it. Nice to hear Nas rhyming on something that isn’t just a loop… it’s real musical.

15. Black President (feat. Johnny Polygon) (Produced by DJ Green Lantern)- Green changed the beat a little from the original Christina K version (hers had more of 4 on the floor house feel), but the track still knocks. Out of all the Pac samples I’ve heard used on beats, this was probably the best and most appropriate and timely. I think the piano part that comes in on the hook could have been executed a little bit better, but fuck it we can’t nitpick every little detail.

So all in all, from a production standpoint I like the album. I don’t have the credits so I don’t know if any of the songs were co-written with Nas or what, but I do think some of the hooks are lame and preachy. Rhyme-wise, I think Nas comes with some strong vocab and some cool flows, and he definitely sounds better than he did on Hip-Hop Is Dead, which let’s face it, sounded like it was recorded with Nas half-asleep. It’s also a more concise effort than Street’s Disciple‘s bloated 2-disc collection of songs that didn’t have any relation to one another. Untitled definitely sounds like one cohesive idea. The beats are all very musical, and there’s a lot of cool instrumentation going on that you really have to pay close attention to pick up on. It’s got a real “live” feel to it, which is awesome because boring loop-based music needs to have a nail put in its coffin already.

Untitled is Nas best work since God’s Son.

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