(Def Jam)

recommended recommended recommended recommended

The new record from the heroically self-defined and historically inconsistent Nasir Jones was to be called Nigga, then Nigger, and ultimately ended up untitled. Thankfully, these titling amendments reflect no softening of content, as the album finds Nas in his most unrelentingly furious form since It Was Written.

The album is a hyperconscious and scholarly dive into the ill winds of modern America, and Nas refrains from dealing in broad strokes or espousing clear solutions. It's not only one of the most eloquent rap records on race politics, but one of the best political albums of any sort in recent memory. When he's hitting, Nas is one of the most evocative and virtuosic lyricists alive, and he's hitting hard throughout this album.

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Gone are many of the stadium-rap gestures of 2006's mildly disappointing, thematically muddled Hip Hop Is Dead. In their place are highly serviceable, economically powerful beats—much more ideal settings for Nas's knotted branches of thought. Opener "Queens Get the Money" is a sparse, chorusless vehicle for God's Son to build up steam for the long battle ahead, while the single "Hero" finds him in a classic but invigorated mode of self-exultancy. The album reaches its emotional climax on "N.I.G.G.E.R. (The Slave and the Master)," where Nas takes time to sift through the gritty minutiae of a poverty-stricken life in the USA before climbing the tenements to preach from the rooftops.

Nas spits hot fire in the face of the Patriot Act, scratches his itchy brain with alien conspiracy theories, and takes us out with "Black President," a still-uncertain rally to the potential glory of a better future. Nas has frequently labeled himself a revolutionary and a militant rebel, but never have these qualities been as convincing as on this album.