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Untitled (The Jones Experience/Def Jam/Columbia)

Wednesday, Jul 23 2008

Since his classic debut, Illmatic, Nas has been mostly coasting on his charm, his gift for public relations, and his skills as an MC. But on Untitled he's clearly hoping that by name-dropping big issues (reparations, single motherhood, media control) and dazzling you with his acrobatic flow ("I'm over they heads / Like a bulimic on a see-saw") you'll gloss over the fact that he's not saying anything coherent. Credit Nas for understanding that relevant pieces of art should speak to big things, and indeed Untitled — partly through its original title, Nigger — takes on the incendiary intersection of politics, race, and language. But bits of intelligent rumination are overshadowed by hypocrisy: Nas speaks of inclusion while paying tribute to Louis Farrakhan, and decries poverty while glorifying materialism. One can't help but conclude that the rapper chooses his subject matter simply for its shock value. (What will he call his next album? Nazi? Abortion?) Even the songs that should be slam dunks — like the Murdoch-critiquing "Sly Fox" — clank off the rim with erroneous claims like "they own YouTube." (No, that's Google.) "I am tuned in," says an ominous voice later in that song. So are we. Nas has a forum, passion, and talent. Too bad his message is muddled.

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Ben Westhoff


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