Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hero

I. Am. A little bit slow.

(You knew that already, but you probably would like a reminder, no?)

I bought Nas' "Untitled" album when it was released earlier this year.

(May? June? I don't remember. It was a while ago.)

And I listened to it. A few times. It was cool. Didn't change my life. Or even qualify as leaveonrepeatforamonth. Just another record. Among hundreds of others mountaining up in my house.

Couple weeks back I saw it on my work iTunes and decided to give it another listen. It sounded better than I remembered. A little more cohesive. Like it really wanted to say something. Like it wanted to be more than just another piece of sonic detritus filling the pop culture trash heap.

And I think it does. Really. On the strength of one song, "Hero."



It should have been the epicenter of the album, but managed only to rise to the level of lead single. Which is less than the same thing. And which is no one's fault but Nas'.

It's clear that Nas wanted to explore his own iconography while explaining one recent controversy he's been linked to--and he did--but he didn't construct the story that deserved be told. Not exactly.

Verse 1 is the rise of Nas. 12(?) bars of straight autobiography looking at where he is and where he came from.

Verse 2 is...more of the same. With a little bit of reflection on how his idea of what's really good has evolved.

Verse 3 explains how his album came to lack a title and lays out the intent behind his original choice of a title.

Verses 1 and 3 are vintage Nas. Verse 2 is...dope...but mildly superfluous. We got enough braggadocio in verse 1 and could have used a lil more heart in verse 2 than Nas delivered. Less about Nas and more about how Nas thinks the world has changed in correlation to the way he himself has changed. That would have been the ideal connector between the first and third verses. Instead, we got clever redundancy. What we deserved was a full story where the artist contemplates his own journey, the state of the world he inhabits and the political ramifications of his efforts to express himself. Two out of three ain't bad. It's good. Which is less than great.

I lived with the song for three days before arriving at that conclusion. During that time, I fell in heavy like with the beat. The elements are so simple that when taken apart, they might make your average okay-hater cringe. But the way they are assembled is just shy of brilliant. Somehow, Polo layers a poor man's Bomb Squad of a drum break under a potentially cheap sound effect then sprinkles it with some Keri Hilson-ness, some Storch-y keys, and some marching band. It really worked for me. Perhaps because it sounded so dramatic. But I digress. Way too much here.

The point of all this (there is one, if you can believe it) is to commend a good effort. After re-listening to that song--and to the rest of that album--I came to appreciate the thought Nas put into it. It's not Illmatic. But nothing ever could be. (Nor should it be.) It is a good album. With some flashes of greatness. Rather, near greatness. Like "Hero."

Time may be more kind than I've been here. Or not.

It is worth saying that an old MC still has some fire to spit. And that he maintains his sense of purpose. Even if his storytelling abilities have faded a little.

He is still very good. Heroic, even. But not quite great.

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