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