We’ve already reviewed Nas‘ new album, Life is Good, but we felt that it was unfair to a lyricist as talented as the preeminent Queens MC to not highlight his best lines. As the man described himself back in ’94: “the smooth criminal on beat breaks, never put me in your box if your shit eats tapes.” Updating himself for the new millennium with his recent effort, Nas has produced some truly tape-eating lines–or perhaps now they’re MP3 scrambling:
Queensbridge leader, no equal
I come from the Wheel of Ezekiel
To pop thousand-dollar bottles of scotch, smoke pot and heal the people
This is how you open an album. Without shame or modesty, Nas let’s you know that he’s rich, from the hood, quasi-mythical, and goddamn proud of it.
The truth is the truth, I really puts scars on niggas
They wear them lifetime, they tell they hoes, “Nas did this”
Pointin’ to they scars like, “Right here baby, really, Nas did this”
This is one of those lyrics that’s startling when it sinks in. It’s a simple thought–that Nas’ most violent moments are now celebrated by their victims as a connection to a legend–but the sheer power behind it is awe-inspiring. This is a measure of success that few will ever meet.
Said she don’t know what got inside this child’s mind, she planted
A box of condoms on her dresser then she Instagrammed it
At this point I realized I ain’t the strictest parent
“Daughters” is one of the album’s most accessible and middle-aged songs, Nas opening up about parenthood and the poor use of social media. This lyric in particular shows an unpretentious insistence on honesty that, in the last line, becomes absolutely hilarious. Who ever would have thought Nas was a strict parent?
How it all started, fifth floor apartment
A jigsaw puzzle aerial view of the projects
A kid saw struggle, buried a few of his partners
Now I chill in resorts, enjoying massages
Check out the oracle bred from city housing
The rare two-fer here. In the first half, Nas turns his legendary mythos into a mystical role without the heavy-handed effort that marred previous albums. The mix of understatement (“a kid saw struggle”) and the dramatic conclusion to the lyric turn the typical hip hop braggadocio into a welcomed piece of luck that humanizes the man. And all in five lines.
To call them fake today is hate, real niggas extinct
Pac left me inside a rap world with niggas that wink
At other rappers, undercover niggas spit every way
Won’t be surprised if all their rides have federal plates
Let alone their wardrobes and Studio 4 flow
But, oh, oh when you have the background and skill to write that first lyric, of course you’d take issue with the radio’s new favorites. (We’re looking at you, Drake. And of course you, Tyga.) To use the word ‘real’ to describe Nas is both tired and too little–and yet it’s still a word that’s falsely thrown around all the time. And that, my friends, is what attracts the wrath of a legend.