Hey you, Mr. Hardcore Hip-Hop Fan, decked out in your FUBU/ Timberland
outfit topped off with a fresh skully, holding a blunt in one hand and a
rhyme notebook in the other. Guess what? Nastradamus is no
Illmatic. A few songs might hold your interest ("Come Get Me,"
"Shoot 'Em Up," "Life We Chose"), but the remainder of this album follows
the lead of I Am ... . It's a mixed bag of pop-hook grasps at higher
sales, gangsta tales for the rap-as-comic-book-audience, social commentary
for the "positive" crowd and grubby hardcore for Nas' old fans. Do yourself
a favor and dub your faves off your dunn.
Everyone else guess what? Nastradamus is pretty good. It
isn't great, but it doesn't suck and there is ample evidence of Nas'
lyrical gifts from beginning to end. If you liked his previous albums
I Am ... (1999) and It Was Written (1996) you'll likely
find Nastradamus right up your alley. Fans of his Nas Escobar
persona displayed on The Firm (1997) might like Nastradamus
too, though the social commentary may get a bit too preachy for ya.
Nas is a master of hitting the listener hard with parables of inner-city
life delivered with an authoritative voice that is fast, creative and
clear. Those are the gifts he displayed on the 1994 insta-classic
Illmatic that have had the hardcore-lyric-loving crowd falling
over themselves to decry every Nas release since. Of course, subsequent
releases found Nas straying into commercial-friendly pop-gangsta territory
(climaxing with I Am ...'s Puff Daddy cameo), so they may have a
point. On the other hand, I'd rather hear a gifted lyricist like Nas tell
me about how much money he has than sit through simple-minded songs like
B.G.'s"Bling Bling" or C-Bo's "Money By the Ton." Whether he's rapping
about chilling with strippers ("You Owe Me"), defending his turf ("Shoot
'Em Up" [RealAudio
excerpt]) or hoping for a better world in the inner city ("Project
excerpt], "Some of Us Have Angels," "New World"), Nas balances
his linguistic gymnastics with passion.
Nastradamus disappoints whenever Nas disappears. Production-wise,
bringing in DMX knob-twiddler Dame Grease is a letdown. Grease's songs
"Some Of Us Have Angels," "Family," "God Love Us" and "Quiet Niggas"
(nearly a third of the songs) are the least inspiring on the album.
The guest rappers on Nastradamus are sparsely used but bear the
imprint of Nas' influence (especially the Bravehearts on "Quiet Niggas")
and don't come close to matching wits with their inspiration. I'm still
unsure what I think about looping Toto's "Africa" in the "I-see-a-better-life-for-all"
song "New World," but it is rubbing me the wrong way enough to include
it in this paragraph.
On to the next graph, which is for raves. Will DJ Premier ever stop
peaking? "Come Get Me" is more evidence that perhaps he never will. You
know that Christmas song that goes something like "There are the bells/
So many bells/ I hear the bells/ Ding-dong/ Ding-dong"? Nas and Mobb
Deep producer Havoc use its melody as a basis for the violent gangsta
tale "Shoot 'Em Up." Surprisingly, it works. The title song (RealAudio
excerpt) also cooks. "Project Windows" features nice R&B chorus
work from Ron Isley and could easily be a lost Illmatic track.
If this is the kind of future we can expect from Nas, well, we could do
a lot worse. Those who want to live in 1994 for the rest of their lives
are more than welcome to do it the rest of us will gladly enjoy
songs like "Come Get Me," "Project Windows," "Shoot 'Em Up" and "Life We