In 1993, Nasty Nas released his debut album, 'Illmatic,' which immediately won him an army of fans. With intricate lyricism over smooth beats, Nas was called the new Rakim by many and universally praised. However, like all hip hop artists Nas ultimately has to bow to the almighty dollar, and a more-radio friendly selection of beats alienated some of the original fans. Under the new moniker of 'Nas Escobar,' 'It Was Written' and the regrettable Firm album got Nas to that awkward position in hip hop: far from his original fans but with enough skills to say that he hadn't totally sold out.
And so comes 'I Am,' the third album by Nasir Jones. The fans of Nasty Nas gasped with hope at the Primo produced 'Nas is Like,' while Escobar confirmed that he was still around on the Puff Daddy assisted 'Hate Me Now.' Could Nas be able to pull off an album midway between Nasty and Escobar, pleasing everyone?
The answer, unfortunately, is no. The trouble begins early, on the track 'NY State of Mind Part 2.' Unwisely, Nas creates a sequel to one of 'Illmatic's better moments and shows the gulf between Nasty Nas and Nas now. While it is by no means a bad track, and the beats are nicely reminiscent of the original, it doesn't live up to the original's benchmark.
The main problem with 'I Am' is the sheer amount of throwaway tracks. While guest appearances are few and far between, the collaborations with Scarface and DMX sound like they were made to increase sales rather than quality. The standout tracks are fairly rare, and 'CIA' and 'K.I.S.S.I.N.G.' show how badly a tiresome hook can hurt a track.
Although this review may have sounded harsh so far, there are good moments. The aforementioned 'NY State of Mind Part 2,' 'Hate Me Now' and 'Nas is Like' are all good examples of Nas' lyrical prowess, and the link between the last few tracks is a lot better than you will hear on most LPs. And although 'Illmatic' comparisons again hurt it, 'We Will Survive' works well as a 'One Love'-esque letter to the deceased Biggie and 2Pac.
One of my favourite tracks that I feel I need to mention is 'Undying Love' it's phenomenal. The beats compliment Nas as he goes through telling a story about being betrayed and committing suicide. You really do have to listen to it to find out how good it is.
Had I been reviewing an EP with 'Nas Is Like,' 'Hate Me Now,' 'Undying Love' and 'NY State Of Mind Part 2' you would be seeing the first ever 10 score on Tha Real. Unfortunately, Nas once again delivers an album that has a lot of good moments but also, quite a lot of bad, as a whole it doesn't match up well to 'Illmatic.' 'I Am' is a good album, but it's hard to listen to it without comparing it to his earlier work. Hopefully 'Nastradamus' will change the downward spiral Nas has been going through, but ultimately this is worst Nas album yet.