Tidal Catalog #35: Nasty Nas

Introduction: For those of you that have stumbled across this website and are interested in reading about my trek through the universe of the Tidal streaming service, let me tell you a bit about what I did. Back in 2016 I thought it would be kind of cool to listen to an artist’s catalog from start to finish and rank them from best to worst. After all, who doesn’t like a good list? I thought I might do a few of them and see what happened, hoping it would introduce me to records that were foreign to me in the arsenal of an artist I was familiar with. I also thought that it would be pretty cool to get out of the “one off” mode of listening to a new record, years after the previous one, in order to get a true sense of how the artist matured over time. Fast forward to June of 2019 and 250 catalogs later, I ended the trek. I posted these all on Facebook over the years as they were completed but I’m going to move them all over here, starting with #1, in order to expand them out a bit more. Facebook doesn’t exactly allow for too many details.

As with all my catalogs, to be considered in the ranking, an album has to meet certain criteria:

  • The artist must actually perform on 80% of the tracks (soundtrack and rap provision)
  • No compilations of previous released material will be included.
  • However, compilations of previously recorded material will be included if they are remixes, bonus tracks, outtakes… mostly music that hasn’t been part of a main release before.
  • The album must have been released officially and within the realm of the label that the artist would have been on at the time or official releases posthumously (normally applies to a slew of live records)
  • Any EPs must contain new new music and be relevant to the catalog, not be more like a single with a b-side or two.

Entrance Point: I had heard Illmatic but not much else other than few singles here and there, so this was nearly a blind catalog for me.

Included: Distant Relatives – his album with Damian Marley, his album with Foxy Brown, AZ and Nature under the name The Firm.

Not included: Nas’ three mixtapes. I don’t include mixtapes in most of these. It is what it is.

All albums ranked on a 10 point scale:

  • Illmatic (10)

Hip hop the way Hip Hop should be done, right here folks. If you give a shit about Nas and you’re reading this post, well then you already know this is a stone cold classic. There are so many great hits on this disc from “One Love” to “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” with its memorable sample of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and “The World Is Yours.” But this is a great look at why old school hip-hop was so good. Ten songs, 40 minutes, no filler, AZ on one track and Q-Tip on another but otherwise, no guest stars taking up half the album and killer beats from the first note. I’ve always been a fan of the album and especially “N.Y. State of Mind,” and it surely goes down as one of the best pure hip-hop records of all time.

  • It Was Written (9.5)

When you come out of the gate with a classic, it’s hard to live up to that and a lot of people think Nas has never had another good record – even Jay-Z in his dis track, “Takeover” admits that Illmatic was great but Nas had a “one hot album in every ten year average,” but in the end, I disagree. Nothing is matching the debut, for sure but It was Written was the follow up and is pretty great in its own right. It’s different from the rawness on Illmatic. Nas made a conscious decision to focus on more commercial beats and get hits amongst the Snoops, Puffys and others that were all over radio. You can hear that on “Street Dreams” which obviously had the memorable sample of “Sweet Dreams (are Made of This) by the Eurythmics and the Nas song that has still stood the test of time, “If I Ruled the World” featuring Ms. Lauryn Hill. He also started adding more guests here, Foxy Brown, Dr. Dre, Havoc, JoJo (from KC & Jojo) etc…, which worked well here but after this he would do a record as The Firm and that’s where it all went haywire.

  • Stillmatic (8.5)
  • God’s Son (8.5)
  • NASIR (8.5)

Outside of the debut, Nas’ latest release as of this post, 2018’s NASIR is the most interesting of his releases. Interesting because it really doesn’t sound like a Nas record. There are only a handful of hip-hop producers that I can say really have a distinguishable sound. It used to be people like Master P and Diddy. Then Dr. Dre and Timbaland and while those guys don’t do as much now, there’s three very active that have “a sound” – Pharrell, RZA and Kanye. And this one is a Kanye record. When Kanye first got in the production game, I don’t think he stood out but these days, there’s a pretty consistent sound. Almost an alternative rap, heavy use of pianos and really quick repetitive vocal samples and a strong presence of a choir or at least choir like vocals on many songs. And that’s what comes into play here. Nas is of course the featured rapper but this very much plays like a Kanye West record since he produced all the tracks and is featured on most of them and because it’s a short 7-track, 26 minute record, you get that burst of Kayne with no real time to change back to a typical Nas sound. But, it’s also a really good album. So it’s kind of a weird record in my mind. “Cops Shot the Kid” was one of my favorite rap songs of 2018, but Kanye’s rap totally outshines Nas. I took off a half point for Kanye’s overwhelming presence.

  • I Am… (8)
  • Hip Hop Is Dead (8)

Hip Hop is Dead came out in 2006 and was Nas’ 8th record, after a bunch of critical duds and a lot of people feeling he fell off. There was a lot of controversy around this one due to the name and the connotation behind it. The southern hip-hop community took offense to the record because they believed that Nas was taking a shot at them for what he deemed as fake rap and styles that were destroying rap. This of course came from a guy that was no longer really popular at the time, which made it even worse. And then weirdly enough of all the guests on the album, Jay-Z appeared on “Black Republican” – only years after taking shots at Nas in “Takeover.” Kanye produced that song and he’s got a verse on “Still Dreaming,” so I guess all was forgiven. A lot of rappers took offense to the record and it sure didn’t help that is was a mediocre one at that. But it was only the Nas record that was even on my radar at any point after Illmatic because of this.

  • Street’s Disciple (7.5)
  • Untitled (7)
  • Life is Good (7)
  • Distant Relatives (w/ Damian Marley) (7)

Further along in this trek, I do a catalog on the entire Marley family so this album was intriguing to me and while it’s listenable, it’s also pretty disappointing. Like the NASIR album above, this also doesn’t feel like a Nas record. This is a collaboration with Damian Marley but it’s a reggae album first and foremost and although Nas gets top billing on the album, Jr. Gong usually gets the first verse on each song and the chorus, so it definitely sounds like a Marley record with Nas guesting. I have no problem with that but the tracks are just pretty dull in the end, which is really the whole reason for it being so low on the list. The first single and lead track on the record is “As We Enter,” which is an upbeat hip-hop track that sounds a lot like something that RZA would have given to Ghostface for one of his solo records. But it’s a tease as that’s the only song on the record that has that vibe. The rest is reggae and apart from one other track (“Dispear”), Nas sounds out of place. I really think Nas has a great flow but it doesn’t fit with reggae. These tracks are mid-tempo, laid-back, ganja smoking tunes and Nas’ flow is a bit harsh for that. It’s good enough for a solid once through but in the end it seems more forced than natural.

  • The Lost Tapes (6.5)
  • Nastradamus (5.5)
  • The Lost Tapes 2 (5.5)
  • The Firm – The Firm: The Album (4)

Summary: 15 albums, average 7.4

Tidal Catalog #33: AC/DC

Introduction: For those of you that have stumbled across this website and are interested in reading about my trek through the universe of the Tidal streaming service, let me tell you a bit about what I did. Back in 2016 I thought it would be kind of cool to listen to an artist’s catalog from start to finish and rank them from best to worst. After all, who doesn’t like a good list? I thought I might do a few of them and see what happened, hoping it would introduce me to records that were foreign to me in the arsenal of an artist I was familiar with. I also thought that it would be pretty cool to get out of the “one off” mode of listening to a new record, years after the previous one, in order to get a true sense of how the artist matured over time. Fast forward to June of 2019 and 250 catalogs later, I ended the trek. I posted these all on Facebook over the years as they were completed but I’m going to move them all over here, starting with #1, in order to expand them out a bit more. Facebook doesn’t exactly allow for too many details.

As with all my catalogs, to be considered in the ranking, an album has to meet certain criteria:

  • The artist must actually perform on 80% of the tracks (soundtrack and rap provision)
  • No compilations of previous released material will be included.
  • However, compilations of previously recorded material will be included if they are remixes, bonus tracks, outtakes… mostly music that hasn’t been part of a main release before.
  • The album must have been released officially and within the realm of the label that the artist would have been on at the time or official releases posthumously (normally applies to a slew of live records)
  • Any EPs must contain new new music and be relevant to the catalog, not be more like a single with a b-side or two.

Entrance Point: My introduction to AC/DC was Back in Black and as an 80s collector, I had heard all the 80s material and through The Razor’s Edge in 1990. At some point I went backwards and heard Dirty Deeds and Highway to Hell.

Not Included: Who Made Who – the soundtrack is comprised of mostly previously recorded hits, so it doesn’t contain enough new material.

All albums ranked on a 10 point scale:

  • Back in Black (10)

Back in fucking Black man. How could this record be anything but a perfect 10? It’s a masterpiece of rock music and even if you think every AC/DC record sounds exactly the same from this point out, this is at least one of the records you should go back to if you want to listen to the band. Really, what I focus on when I think about this record is that it was the first with Brian Johnson after Bon Scott died. You never know what’s going to happen when you replace a singer, especially one as unique as Bon Scott and yet here’s Brian Johnson, stepping into big shoes, presented with some of the best rock music ever written and knocking it out of the park on the first try. He joined the band at the peak of their creativity and really, became an instant legend. And of course this is a Mutt Lange produced record and Lange demanded perfection. It’s why his records still hold up 40(!) fucking years after their release. If you don’t know any songs from this record, please – and I don’t mean to be an asshole – but please, exit this post.

  • Highway To Hell (9.5)

Highway to Hell was also a Mutt Lange produced record and the last with Bon Scott on vocals. And whomever said AC/DC didn’t know how to properly open an album, were crazy. Wait – no one said that? My bad. Jeez – I mean, “Hells Bells” from Black in Black and the title track from this record simply hit you over the head at the start and the energy never lets up from there. I think the only reason the latter gets the top spot over this is that the flip side of this record isn’t as memorable but it’s certainly one of the top 1-2 punches in the history of rock n’ roll. In reality, it’s not all that different from Back in Black in the end. Super polished, note-for-note perfection and hooks for days. And since Brian Johnson’s voice has a similar tone to Bon Scott, they certainly flow like companion pieces.

  • Flick of the Switch (9.5)

The only reason I even bothered to stop at this one and say anything is because the vast majority of critics have shit on this record and I have to disagree with them. AC/DC put out For Those About to Rock, after Back in Black and that was the sound of a band that seemed to be tired and rundown. Flick of the Switch was the follow up to that record, in 1983 and marked the beginning of a long period where critics gave them hell. I’m sure I bought into that, because going into this catalog I even wondered if I could rank these records as they would all sound the same. Well, they don’t but yeah, this one in particular kind of does. Flick of the Switch was the first one of the last four, not produced by Mutt Lange. The band said they wanted to get back to the rawness of earlier albums. They failed at that. AC/DC created an album that was slightly looser and not quite as perfect as the Mutt Lange productions but sonically it was pretty much the same. But the critical opinion is that the songs were dull and I find them anything but that. This album is a rockin’ good time from start to finish, even if you’ve heard it all before.

  • The Razor’s Edge (9)

Admittedly the two albums to close out the 80s were somewhat dull compared to the ones above and at this point it was pretty easy to wonder if they’d ever release another great record. But then 1990 rolls around and not only do the boys put out a great record but it actually – gasp – sounds kind of different from their regular three riffs. Again, they start the record with the massive “Thunderstruck” but there’s also “Moneytalks” which while still clearly being an AC/DC song, had a bit more of a pop chorus and sounded different from anything else they’d ever made. Not that different but different enough. And while “Mistress of Christmas” is kind of a dud, it’s made up for with great rockers like the title cut and “Got You By the Balls.” Without The Razor’s Edge, I don’t know that AC/DC would still be around today. This album clearly got their career back on track and frankly, they can release music forever if they wanted to now.

  • High Voltage (9)
  • Let There Be Rock (8)
  • Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (7.5)

The last album I want to talk about here is Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. It was recorded in 1976 but didn’t get released here in the US until 1981 after Bon Scott died. When the Young brothers stated that they wanted to get back to the rawness of their earlier sound when they recorded Flick of the Switch, you can certainly point to this record as a reference point for that. The record definitely doesn’t have that slick studio sound or impeccable playing style that Mutt Lange required. It feels like an album where a bunch of dudes just went into a studio and started recording. After all, how else does “Big Balls” end up on any record otherwise? With their 70s records, the blues-rock influence was more prominent than on anything from the 80s forward, which you can hear on a track like “Rocker” or “There’s Gonna Be Some Rockin’.” In the US the track listing was pretty different on the ’81 version from the original UK version and with it, there was a lack of flow that wasn’t an issue on the original. And since it was released after Back in Black but didn’t represent the production values the band had at that point, it really wasn’t much of a hit. The title track will get played forever and “Problem Child” is pretty awesome (false ending notwithstanding). Overall, the album is decent enough but the original form is better than the US version (which is what I based this off of) and it’s too bluesy for my tastes.

  • Rock or Bust (7)
  • Blow Up Your Video (7)
  • ’74 Jailbreak (7)
  • For Those About To Rock We Salute You (6.5)
  • Powerage (6.5)
  • Backtracks (6.5)
  • If You Want Blood You Got It (6)
  • Stiff Upper Lip (6)
  • Live at River Plate (6)
  • Black Ice (5.5)
  • Ballbreaker (5.5)
  • Bonfire (5)
  • AC/DC Live (5)
  • Fly on the Wall (4)

Summary: 21 albums, average 7.0