Nas openly admits it: he’s been haunted. Not by Jay-Z’s taunts on the heavily rotated dis fest “Takeover,” not by seeing several of his ties with friends like Cormega and Nature dissolve, not even by the ghosts of his deceased Queensbridge housing projects compatriots like Ill Will. The bane of Nas’ existence, at least in terms of his rap career, is his classic debut, Illmatic.
Considered to be one of the main catalysts that got other MCs to refocus on lyrics, Nas’ 1994 LP has been a measuring stick critics and fans say he has not been able to artistically match, despite the fact that all of his subsequent LPs have outsold it.
On his fifth solo LP, Stillmatic, which is slated for a December 18 release, Nas makes it very clear that he’s not trying to duplicate any of his past efforts (on the album’s intro he says he would never try to make another Illmatic and he’s moving on). He just wants everyone to realize he’s still worthy of being heralded as rap’s lyrical messiah (see “Nas Out To Prove He’s Stillmatic“ ).
Out to prove he’s truly divine, the self-proclaimed “king of rap” throws another handful of verbal lightning bolts Jay-Z’s way on “Ether.” Nas struck a blow at Jay earlier this year via mixtapes on “Stillmatic,” which did not make the album’s cut. With “Ether,” Nas likens Jigga to J.J. Evans from the ’70s TV show “Good Times,” and cigarette cartoon character Joe Camel.
Nas also makes claims that Jigga used to get chased through the Marcy projects by “real thugs,” was a sex slave to Foxy Brown and only admitted to stabbing Lance “Un” Rivera to cover up for a friend (see “Jay-Z Pleads Guilty To Stabbing, Faces Three Years’ Probation” ).
As far as Nas’ friends are concerned, he’s broken even. Once-estranged rhyme partner AZ joins him on freestyles on “The Flyest,” but it looks like he’s no longer considering Mobb Deep’s Prodigy as one of his brothers from another mother. P, who has often collaborated with Nas in the past, is the subject of a verse on “Destroy & Rebuild.”
The cut’s thematic outline is a proclamation that all the weak links from Queensbridge (Prodigy is actually from Lefrak City, Queens, but has become synonymous with the Queensbridge houses by shouting them out in his music) must be annihilated in order to make it great again.
Asking Nas’ clique the Bravehearts to help him get back stolen jewelry and indirectly dissing Nas on songs are among Prodigy’s committed atrocities, according to the tune’s author. Nas’ former Firm groupmates Cormega and Nature also garner disdain-filled verses on the track.
Taking a more conceptual approach, “Rewind” is a dose of Nas’ vintage, lucid storytelling. Sort of like a “Pulp Fiction” on wax, he narrates a day in his life — where he starts off with a sexual romp and later commits a murder — from ending to beginning (even phrases like “hell no” get pronounced “no hell”). Meanwhile, “Second Childhood” paints a portrait of adults in the ’hood unwilling to grow up and accept responsibilities.
“My country sh—ed on me,” Nas sings on “My Country,” where he sometimes condemns America while speaking of the plights of African Americans.
The album’s first single is “Got Ur Self A … ” and samples A3’s 1997 tune “Woke Up This Morning,” which is used as the opening theme for “The Sopranos.” “We had a meeting with [record label executive] Steve Stoute,” said the track’s producer, Megahertz. “He’d given us the a cappella for the song and asked if I could design music around it.”
After a couple of hours of trying to figure out what type of beat to lay around the words “Got yourself a gun,” Megahertz molded pianos and strings that sound like they could’ve been played at the coronation ceremony for an 18th century king.
“This is real hardcore,” Nas says on the record. “Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit soft/ Sip cris, get chips, wrist gliss, I floss … ”
The video was shot two weeks ago in Los Angeles by director Benny Boom. His label is trying to keep the clip’s concept under wraps, though a spokesperson for Columbia did disclose that several photos of the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur would be used.
Besides Megahertz, other production notables such as Large Professor, Swizz Beatz and DJ Premier contributed tracks to the album.
Stillmatic track list, according to Columbia Records:
- “Stillmatic (The Intro)”
- “Got Ur Self A …”
- “Smokin’ ”
- “You’re Da Man”
- “One Mic”
- “Second Childhood”
- “Destroy & Rebuild”
- “The Flyest”
- “Braveheart Party”
- “My Country”
- “Every Ghetto”