In many ways, Nas’ 2008 untitled release offers listeners what we’ve typically grown to expect from the 17 year vet – an album hyped with controversy and anticipation while garnering varying reviews from both fans and critics. Listeners are confronted with familiar yin and yang contradictions with Nas attempting once again to deliver heavy doses of social critique that are underground in nature but pop enough for mass consumption.
Atypical to a Nas album, Untitled never quite reaches any highs of artistic genius. Neither the music nor the lyrics show any real signs of wit. Overall, Untitled’s sound is awkward in that it presents an uncomfortable mix of semi (but barely) melodic synthesizers, simplistic drum creations and unoriginal rhymes and lyrics (“Breathe”, “Hero”, “Make the World Go Round”), intermingled with actual ear-pleasing hip hop music though few and far between (“You Can’t Stop Us Now”, “N.I.G.G.E.R”, “Fried Chicken”). The roller coaster ride of song highs and lows is unsettling. Although Nas dazzles in both style and delivery over the piano of the Jay Electronica-produced “Queen’s Get the Money,” he slumps on the album’s title track. Even more difficult to stomach is the unavoidable comparison to be drawn between this album and its predecessor and unofficial mixtape counterpart, The Nigger Tape,which dropped only a month prior. Where Untitled is inconsistent and forgettable, The Nigger Tape is thematically steady, entertaining and most often a seamless blend of music and content. Where Untitled feels diluted in both message and sound, The Nigger Tape is Hip hop’s most creative balance of politically charged, thematically militant and daring material having realistic commercial ambitions since Ice Cube’s The Predator.
Even still, Untitled does provide a handful of songs worthy of consistent ipod rotation. On “Black President,” Nas rejoices in the implications of Barak Obama’s presidential possibilities. The song is an anthem made to accompany the first presidential candidate worthy of celebration in the modern generation. “The Slave and the Master” is an emotional reflection for the world’s peoples of color. “You Can’t Stop Us Now” sounds smooth and refreshing with Nas addressing various societal topics of relevance. The “hit or miss” nature of Untitled is indeed bothersome, but the songs that hit are certainly praiseworthy.
Reluctantly, Untitled enforces the widely-held critical estimation of Nas and his music. If you are one who feels that he typically underachieves and at times embarrasses himself with contradictions and music that isn’t particularly enjoyable, then this album will not change your notion. It reeks of Nas’ “consciousness for the masses” songs, blending at best, above average lyrical substance with billboard crossover ambitions that are ultimately graceless, sonically displeasing commercial backfires. Its musical gems are not enough to distract the listener from the lack of solid entertainment or innovation. Untitled is not only a disappointment to the typical critic but also to the most sympathetic Nas fan.