The last surviving artist from an era of perfection that hip hop will never be able to recreate, Nas releases music to a global audience that’s simultaneously hopeful for and guardedly pessimistic about the genre he trades in. His 1994 debut Illmatic is lauded, with little argument, as the best hip hop record of all time, and his subsequent work will eternally be judged relative to it, even as hip-hop morphs, becoming more and more commercial.
The world’s armchair music critics are getting louder, but Nas continues to release records that demonstrate a real recognition of his own platform. Even though he rose from the same street corner imagery described by him and his contemporaries of the 90s era, Nas left the gangsters in the schoolyard long ago. His image has occasionally shifted, but his poetry, words of conviction and purpose, stay the same, smoldering beneath the surface. Even within the fetters of mainstream, major label productions, Nas pushes the political limits of hip hop, seeing its deeper meaning as a vessel for black culture, and himself as its lone legendary representative within that context.
As was established from the outset, each Nas album is a true global event, capturing the attention not only of those who watched him rise, but kids the world over who continue to discover and find inspiration in hip hop’s Golden Age years after it became classic.
The forthcoming album from Nas began generating buzz with the release of the single “Nasty,” a manifesto of return produced by Salaam Remi, who crafted it with the same gritty crunch heard on his beat for “Made You Look” off 2002’s God’s Son. Throwing back a little further in his career, Nas has also enlisted rapper AZ, the only guest MC on Illmatic.
Even before his break, Nas was blessed with beats from the most respected producers in hip hop, and this album will be no different, speculation abound regarding which heavy hitters will appear on the final product. Evidence indicates work from No I.D., Kane Beatz, and Bangladesh of “A Milli” fame. Perhaps the most anticipated collaborations are those with members of the recently risen hip hop phenomenon OFWGKTA. Nas has particularly expressed praise for singer/songwriter Frank Ocean. Group leader Tyler the Creator and member Hodgy Beats are said to be making appearances as well.