I love the Internet. I hate the Internet. I can’t imagine life without it. I wish it didn’t exist. I know more because of the Internet. I know less because of the Internet. More. More. More. More. At times, it’s too much more for my mind absorb. (Word to Mos Def.) More than anything, it’s here to stay.
The Internet is powerful. It can mobilize the people. It can help elect Presidents. It can sway public opinion. Even in hip-hop music. And I say that because I can’t remember another MC’s legacy being affected more by the Internet than the rapper Nas. When the Internet became the dominant taste-making force in hip-hop—let’s say 2005—Nas was a transcendent icon. Nowadays, mostly because of the Internet, he’s a punch line—the terms “Nas Lost” and “Smarten Up Nas” have entered the hip-hop lexicon through their nauseous, juvenile overuse on rap blogs. Honestly, I really don’t get it.
I need help understanding what he lost and why he needs to smarten up. Let’s take a look at his career. His first album is probably the best rap album ever. In all, he’s released nine studio albums. Two went multi-platinum, five just went platinum and the other two went gold. It’s not Eminem numbers but it’s not too shabby. Okay, so it’s not because he doesn’t sell records. Got’cha.
Artistically, he’s made some missteps. Sure, Nastradamus was pretty wince-worthy but I can’t dismiss an album that features this verse:
Black hoods, cops and projects
Sewers flooded with foul blockage
The gutter’s wild and every child watches
Chains in top locks get ripped off hinges
Doors kicked off, drunks stagger off Smirnoff, wipe your beard off
Crippled dope fiends in wheelchairs stare
Vision blurry, cause buried deep in their mind are hidden stories
Bet he’s a mirror image of that 70′s era
He’s finished for the rest of his life, till he fades out
The liquor store workers miss him but then it plays out
So many ways out the hood but no signs say out
Mental slave house where gats go off, I show off
Niggas up north, prisonology talk, till they time cut off
You should chill if you short, prepare deep thought
To hit the street again, get it on, get this paper and breath again
Plan to leave something behind
So your name’ll live on, no matter what the game lives on
That was from “Project Windows.” It’s an incredible record on a wack album. Want something more recent? 2008’s “Queens Get the Money” was better than most rapper’s careers. In fact, this one line (“I’m Huey P in Louis V at the eulogy throwing Molotovs for Emmett”) was better than most rapper’s careers. Okay, so it’s not because he makes shitty music. Got’cha.
What am I leaving out? Right, that battle. He said some nasty things about the most universally beloved rapper of all time. I think that a lot of fans turned on him afterwards. In the late 1990’s, I think there were millions of fans that loved both Jay-Z and Nas. Post-“Ether,” they all took sides. And you just have to look at their respective SoundScan numbers to see who has more fans.
Oliver Stone’s Nixon is one of my favorite movies. And when I think about Jay-Z and Nas, that films comes to mind. Despite being elected to two terms, the 37th President of the United States was the most despised politician of the late 20th century. (Okay, maybe Joe McCarthy.) In the film, a dejected Nixon looks at a portrait of his political archrival, the 35th President, John F. Kennedy and mutters, “When [the people] look at you, they see what they want to be. When they look at me, they see what they are.”
I think that is one of the reasons for the revisionist history going on regarding the Jay-Z-Nas battle. [“Takeover” and “Ether” were both incredible records. One guy, however, went on the radio and apologized and then a year later rapped in a song, “For even in defeat there’s a valuable lesson learned so it evens up for me.”] Fans look at Jay-Z and it’s what they want to be. Who wouldn’t want to be a gazillionaire married to Beyonce that still makes huge pop records and is always the coolest guy in the room? Fans look at Nas and they see a guy who has problems with two baby mothers, a guy who gets drunk on the night his son is born, a guy who perhaps doesn’t work as hard as he should. I know someone like that. So do each and every one of you.
Please share your opinion in the comments. Do you agree with me? If so, when did this shift happen? Does Nas get a bad rap?
Hey, it’s been a lot of fun blogging this past week. I’ll see you guys soon. —Thomas Golianopoulos