Tuesday, July 17
Better than: Listening to Nastradamus.
“I don’t even know how to start this shit…” lamented a young Nas right before presenting the most complete, most timeless rap album in history—and doing so his first time out of the gate. Illmatic was a lot to live up to; Nas, who was barely out of his teens when it was released, could’ve easily ended up like a child actor who peaks before puberty. He made some questionable song choices in the years that followed, and Nastradamus as a whole was very far removed from the street-purist theme music on Illmatic. But true Nas fans never stopped believing that their underground prince was just below the surface of this new shiny exterior called Esco, and that he would once again resume his place as the Street’s Disciple.
Stillmatic, God’s Son and even the dense double-LP Street’s Disciple all promised a return to form, but none (except maybe Stillmatic) really hit like they were supposed to. Then his latest offering, Life Is Good, began being touted as Nas’ best since Stillmatic, and maybe even Illmatic.
Was Nas back? Had the metamorphosis come full circle? SOTC ran up in Tammany Hall last night to find out.
People who trickled in after waiting on a block-long line were treated to sounds of Hot 97’s DJ Camilo (Queens represent!) spinning a very Nas-heavy mix of ’90s rap. After a few hours (three, to be exact), Nas’s DJ Green Lantern finally started setting up; a little after 11, the still-young-looking Nas—repping his hometown with a “New York” t-shirt and his trademark crisp fade—took the stage.
Before launching his set with “Live At The BBQ,” Nas asked how many original fans were in the building. The crowd roared in response and rapped every word to the now-monumental verse (though Nas substituted “went to hell for snuffing Jesus” for “went to hell for loving Jesus”). He then asked his younger, wilder brother Jungle to come out and join him on stage before setting things off with “NY State Of Mind” and “The World Is Yours.” Nas is notorious for either forgetting the words to his raps, or just being too lazy to rap every single word/ It wasn’t too noticeable due to the crowd rapping every word and the five or six stage goons who got on stage soon after Jungle and filled in whatever words Nas left out. (Who says stage goons serve no purpose?)
After “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” went over well, Sosa (a.k.a. AZ) popped up onstage to perform “Life’s A Bitch” with Nas. AZ tried to leave when it was done, but Nas exclaimed, “I can’t let you leave just yet A. Green—play that joint.” With that a phone started ringing through the speakers and the “Phone Tap” beat dropped. “Affirmative Action” went over well, but the crown jewel of their set was “Mo Money, Mo Murder”&30151;a song Nas claims they had never performed live together. AZ left the stage and Nas resumed holding it down for dolo.
“See that, Green?” he pointed out to his DJ. “We went from ‘Life’s A Bitch’ to ‘Life Is Good.’ That’s beautiful. Life is good.”
With that, he treated the crowd to his album of the same name.
He started with “Daughters,” an ode to his struggles as a parent. “I love this record,” Nas joyfully expressed. “So does [his daughter] Destiny. Her mother hates it, though. I don’t know… she’s fucking crazy.” Nas then got back on his street tales with “Queens Story,” a masterfully done history lesson dedicated to dead Queens street legends like E Money Bags, Hindu Mike and Stretch. The beat for “Nas Is Like” then came on but Nas deaded it after a few seconds, vowing to only play new material for the remainder of the show.
“Accident Murderers” was next followed by “Loco-Motive,” a nod to his “trapped in the ’90s niggas.” Just when things were pretty close to perfect, some bonehead handed Swizz Beatz a mic. Luckily, he didn’t say much. The two old friends performed “Summer On Smash,” which will surely be playing at block parties and BBQs for the remainder of the summer. Despite the slightly drunk crowd hollering out requests for classic material, Nas said he had one more to perform before he was out. “So here’s another song I don’t really know too well yet,” he chuckled. “Don’t trust rappers who know their new material too well. That’s a nerd, not an MC.” That led into “Bye Baby,” a song dedicated to his now-ex-wife Kelis that’s far from the typical song of regret and heartbreak—instead it packs quite a punch.
He thanked everyone for coming and—after reminding them that life was good because we all woke up this morning—diddy bopped off stage, goons in tow. Outside the venue the police were moving people along, but for once they weren’t acting like the Gestapo. Life is good indeed.
Critical bias: Nas doesn’t have a lot of radio hits like Jay-Z, but his album cuts like “Memory Lane,” “I Gave You Power” and “Queens Get The Money” make him nasty.
Overheard: “Did you know Nas’s first rap name was Kid Wave?”
Live At The BBQ
NY State Of Mind
The World Is Yours
It Ain’t Hard To Tell
Life’s A Bitch
Mo Money. Mo Murder
Nas Is Like
Summer On Smash