Nas not only broke the rule of album titling when he decided to name his 9th CD after the most incendiary noun in the dictionary, he redefined the art of hypocrisy. Al Sharpton and his ilk condemned the album without having heard a single lyric or musical note from it. Some of Nas' peers understood his motivation, while others questioned his business acumen.
As Def Jam debated whether or not to move forward with the project, a congressman from Nas' hometown of New York asked his state Comptroller to withdraw the $84 million that NY state pension fund has invested in Universal and parent company Vivendi.
After drawing fire for the confrontational title, Nas bowed to pressure and decided to release the album without a title. Well, not exactly. You see, at the back of Nas' mind this is still his N*gger album, intact with the same songs and concepts. It's a testament to the MC's bravery that he lives to tell about every provocative moment of this album's journey.
On one of the decade's most anticipated hip-hop albums, Nas bares his soul like he's never done before. From the moving intro, "Queens Get The Money" to the dashing closer, "Black President," this is Nas at his most honest, radical, and glaringly optimistic.
The album's first quarter is sprinkled with slap-happy tunes about material comfort. Pop go-to guy Polow Da Don concocts a snake charmer on "Hero," while The Game and Chris Brown drop by for a radio-ready jawn on "Make The World Go Round." Both feature the brightest spots on Untitled, with Nas bragging about his boss status.
Get past the bragfest and Untitled switches into full-blown political commentary mode. It's like Nas is saying, "That's the n*gger. Now here's the n*gga."
Buttressing that point, an assault of staccato blasts leaps out of "America," as Nas transforms into a Rocky-like figure ready to tackle any obstacles. At its political core, Untitled is Nas' celebration of what he deems his life mission: hip-hop hero. The MC who declares the culture dead so he can resurrect it on an album called Hip-Hop Is Dead. "People are afraid of criticism, but I always put myself in sacrificial positions," he rhymes on "N.I.G.G.E.R. (The Slave & The Master)"
Throughout Untitled, Nas inspires listeners with the raw transformational power of mere words. His penchant for cranking out tales in metaphors leads to some memorable moments here. On "Farrakhan" he imagines what it's like to inhabit the shoes of a freedom fighter in the 70s, while "Fried Chicken," alongside Busta Rhymes, finds him juxtaposing "fried chicken" with "fly vixens." The latter is a future classic reminiscent of Nas' performance on 1996's "I Gave You Power."
Nas brings to Untitled the same unequivocal rigor, the same philosophical bite, and the same metaphorical punch that animated his stories on It Was Written and God's Son. It's as if you're being edutained by his alter-ego without the gimmicks.
As for the production end, many of the beats here are tailor-made for Nas' off-kilter, conversational flow. Whereas Hip-Hop Is Dead's soundscape was uneven, Untitled finds Nas making some (*gasp*) smart musical choices. Jay Electronica's brooding piano on "Queens Get The Money," for instance, is a perfect match for Esco's stream-of-consciousness rhyming. "Testify" is what "Blunt Ashes" wants to be when it grows up.
Despite the title change, there's no shortage of red-hot rage on Untitled. Nas takes on America's capitalist attitude on "America" and rails against Rupert Murdoch's Fox News on the instabanger "Sly Fox." In part, it's a response to the network for trying to portray him as a violent rapper following 2007's Virginia Tech concert. But Nas doesn't restrict his criticism to misleading media moguls, he also advocates self-upliftment on "N.I.G.G.E.R.," rhyming "We're the slave and the master. What you looking for? You're the question and the answer." Even the aforementioned "Fried Chicken," with its zesty Mark Ronson concoction, indirectly calls on African-Americans to make better choices.
Ultimately, Untitled is a galvanizing romp through the mind of one of hip-hop's most prolific poets. From cover to cover, it's an intellectually sizzling ride that embodies all the introspective expressionism, unabashedly biting commentary, and naked honesty about issues that dominate our daily conversations.