Don't call it a comeback.
The Internet was set abuzz over the weekend, when a new [artist id="1000"]Nas[/artist] track, "Power, Paper & Pu---," was leaked from DJ Green Lantern's latest mixtape, Invasion Radio 2K10. The stellar freestyle features the Queensbridge MC in rare form. In recent years, fans and critics alike have mulled the direction of the rapper's artistic output. Some even argued that Nasty Nas had gone on hiatus. But to hear God's Son tell it, he's still the same MC who gave the game Illmatic.
"[Nasty Nas] never left," Nas confirmed to MTV News via e-mail. "I recorded the song in my hometown of New York City. I was feeling the vibe of the streets and sewers, [which] helped me get in that zone."
On Monday night, Funkmaster Flex aired the track on New York's Hot 97 and then posted the CD-quality version on his site under the Internet-approved title "Last Real, Part 2." Rap Radar, one of the first sites to circulate the original track, later posted the newest version.
"Wait, is it '94 again? Ha!" Rap Radar's Brian Miller joked when we asked about his reaction to the new material. "Nas sounds confident and arrogant. The lyrics are almost nostalgic."
The cut reunites Nas with longtime collaborator Salaam Remi and samples Herb Alpert's 1979 jazz hit "Rise." In his verse, Esco channels his '90s-era delivery and spits the kind of gritty bars that first made him famous.
"Cars with police radars/ On highways bopping/ Bullpen therapy/ Cell-block dodging/ Pissy stairways/ Miss them days, not when/ They shut down stores when I'm shopping," Nas raps over the trumpet-laden track. "Used to be pop-locking, train-hopping/ Face covered in stocking/ Six-pack Bud-drinking gambler/ F--- them cameras/ In front of the man, sing the hustla's mantra/ Hands are luck/ More hits than Gamble and Huff."
He later wraps up: "I'm at the Waldorf/ Van Cleef under the sleeve/ Save the small talk/ I feel alive/ New Porsches/ Jordan's No. 5/ I already said, 'I'm the last real n---a alive.' "
Nas explained that he had been a fan of Alpert's record — the Notorious B.I.G.'s 1997 smash "Hypnotize" also samples it — and asked Salaam to take it and concoct something special. "Salaam and I are always working together," Nas said. "I loved the song and asked Salaam to cook it up." The pair linked up to record the track at New York's Manhattan Center.
"It was just an idea he had," Remi told us. "But that's a process we always go through. Really, it's all about the vibe of what we're trying to go for. Nas will throw ideas at me and I'll bounce them right back. We try not to overthink it and let the music speak for itself."
The classic sample is a step in the right direction for Nas, as the MC has at times come under criticism for the beats he chooses.
"For years, fans have said Nas' Achilles heel has been his beat selection. But I'm optimistic," Miller said. "Nas has always sounded good over Remi's production, remember 'Made You Look'?"
"Realistically, it's nothing that's ever foreign," Remi added of their creative process. "We always work together. We work when nobody is thinking that we are. It's not even working — we just do what we do. It's always going."
Despite his recent marital and legal troubles, "Power, Paper & Pu---" projects a reinvigorated Nas ready to reclaim his position among today's best.
"We're slowly seeing the return of the Nas we all know and love," Miller declared. "He was on Tim Westwood's [radio] show a few weeks back and said that he was going to return to that style of rap. He gave us a small sample on the last verse of 'Strong Will Continue' with Damian Marley. His last solo LPs really didn't hold up, so he can only get better from here. He has a lot to talk about, from being divorced to his child-support case. I think the best is yet to come."
In fact, Salaam revealed that fans should be on the lookout for more Nas songs in the near future.
"It can be firing at any moment," Remi said. "It's just about when it's time to let it loose, and he's about to unleash another flurry of music through the multiple projects he has coming out."
What do you think of Nas reviving his golden-era flow? Tell us in the comments!