According to several music experts, though, the title controversy will probably be remembered more at this year's Grammys than his project, which was ultimately released as an untitled LP. The critically acclaimed LP was nominated for Best Hip-Hop Album, along with projects by Lil Wayne, Jay-Z and Lupe Fiasco. Many seem to agree, however, that the chances of such a controversial album being awarded are highly unlikely.
"I have the sick thrill of thinking maybe Nas will win with his unmentionable album name," Hot 97 News Director Miss Info jokingly told MTV News last week.
Nas shocked audiences in late 2007 when he announced at a concert that the name of his next album would be called N---a. The album name created a frenzy, and a source close to the rapper's label, Def Jam, allegedly told Fox News the project would never see the light of day with that title. Nas responded to the controversy by changing the name to the much more offensive N---er.
Civil-rights leader the Reverend Jesse Jackson was infuriated by Nas' decision. "The title using the N-word is morally offensive and socially distasteful," Jackson said in a statement to Fox News at the time. "Nas has the right to degrade and denigrate in the name of free speech, but there is no honor in it."
In an interview with MTV News in October 2007, Nas revealed just why he chose to title his album after a racial epithet. The rapper scoffed at the idea that critics would assert opinions without taking his past body of work into consideration. He particularly took umbrage with Jackson's comments and compared his artistic judgment to noted cultural professor Cornel West.
"I'm a street disciple," Nas explained. "I'm talking to the streets. Stay out of our business. You ain't got no business worrying about what the word 'n---er' is or acting like you know what my album is about without talking to me. Whether you in the NAACP or you Jesse Jackson. I respect all of them ... I just want them to know: Never fall victim to Fox. Never fall victim to the sh-- they do. What they do is try to hurry up and get you on the phone and try to get you to talk about something you might not know about yet.
"If Cornel West was making an album called N---er, they would know he's got something intellectual to say," Nas said. "To think I'm gonna say something that's not intellectual is calling me a n---er, and to be called a n---er by Jesse Jackson and the NAACP is counterproductive, counter-revolutionary."
Several of Nas' peers, including LL Cool J, Alicia Keys and Jay-Z, who was president of the label at the time, supported the poetic MC's decision.
By the time the rapper finally released the album, the project was unnamed, though a visceral image of Nas appearing on the cover with whip markings on his back forming the letter "N" more than relayed the intended content.
Songs like the emotionally charged "N.*.*.*.E.R. (The Slave and the Master)" found the lyrically gifted star turning racism on its head as he drew comparisons between those with different faiths and backgrounds. Ultimately, several tracks Nas previewed — like "The Fear," which was about physical stereotypes of black men — failed to make the project. The artists' bewildering history of leaving critical favorites off the final track list made some question whether Untitled is worthy of its Grammy recognition.
"I think Nas' album was nominated 'cause of the message," XXL magazine's Bonsu Thompson told MTV News. "It was more of a political or social stance from an MC rather than the body of his work. Nas may [actually] have the least chance of winning [Best Hip-Hop Album].
"I love what he attempted to do, but I think he fell a little short, content-wise," Thompson added. "The message was stronger than the music."
Will Lil Wayne grab all the gramophones? Is Katy Perry going to tell her girl rivals to kiss off? Can Coldplay march off with a win? MTV News is all over the 51st Annual Grammy Awards, so stay tuned for interviews, analysis and more before, during and after the big night, Sunday, February 8.