“Lost Tapes” Are Great Find

In hip-hop music’s timeline, 1994 was a beautiful year. Along with the resurgence of New York’s raw breed of rap, these 12 months also saw the release of “Illmatic,” a 10 song audio masterpiece of lyrical superiority delivered by a new MC out of Queensbridge known simply as Nas.

Hailed instantly as a classic, “Illmatic” began what would become a prolific career for young Nasir Jones, one full of high expectations and magnifying glass-like observance from the always-critical hip-hop community.

While his 1996 follow-up “It Was Written” won over critics and fans with continued verbal skills, along with it came a new level of commercial acceptance, which in the rap community is at times looked down upon. From there, the praise and acclaim Nas had been receiving were quickly replaced by ridicule and disappointment.

His next two releases, the misguided “I Am” and the extremely mediocre “Nastradamus,” added more fuel to the fiery debates of whether Nas was the superior MC people had once claimed him to be.

In 2002, armed with a new sense of lyrical fury and a heavily publicized oral feud with Jay Z, Nas came back with a vengeance on “Stillmatic.” “Stillmatic” featured the impressive wordplay and descriptive narratives that rap audiences once came to expect from Nas, and he finally regained the respect he eagerly aimed to snatch back from the minds of listeners.

While his commercial releases were being scrutinized, unreleased songs and rare tracks by Nas were constantly leaking onto radios and the Internet, creating an urban myth of sorts about his unheard creations.

Fans felt these works were some of Nas’s best ever, yet constantly kept their fingers crossed in hopes that these songs would see the light of day commercially. Poor audio quality and difficult access made these songs hard to obtain and created a strong sense of demand in the streets.

Columbia Records apparently felt the same way, compiling 12 tracks recorded during the “I Am” and “Stillmatic” sessions. Titled “The Lost Tapes,” this album is pure ear candy, a release that should be studied by any aspiring MC. Even though these songs technically are not new, they represent the closest Nas has come to recapturing the magic of his earlier days and serve as pertinent evidence, supporting the claim that Nas is the overall best MC in the hip-hop game today.

The festivities begin with “Doo Rags,” a nicely arranged production courtesy of Precision, complete with soulful drums and soothing piano keys. Nas brainstorms about life’s simpler things, with a celebratory delivery which is intriguing to the listener.

This mood of nostalgia and narration is captured once again on “Poppa Was a Player,” a declaration of appreciation towards his street-savvy father, backed by a whimsical soundscape.

“Nothing Lasts Forever” is a mesmerizing listen, one which inspires through the uplifting words of Nas and captivates through the emotional beat by L.E.S. Listening to this song fills the listener with an unexpected sense of purpose and motivation, something that is rarely felt in any form of music.

Each track on “The Lost Tapes” is accompanied with its own power and relevance, covering a wide range of topics through the metaphoric and vivid words of Nas. Hip-hop’s hottest producer today, The Alchemist, contributes the melodic organ patterns and faint female sighs on “My Way.” On this track, Nas declares how he has always followed his own vision for his career, a la Frank Sinatra, while paying homage to his late partner Ill Will.

“Fetus” is metaphor-laden storytelling at its best, having Nas take the form of a fetus in his mother’s womb, looking out of his ‘belly button window.’ “U Gotta Love It” is pure hip-hop as Nas explains the power of his lyrics over a pounding bass line and looping piano riff. The repeated vocal sample from long-time Nas friend and collaborator AZ, “It’s what they want huh,” perfectly compliments Nasir’s proclamations.

“Black Zombies” finds Nas playing the role of both teacher and philosopher, discussing the negative influences and social neglect felt by minorities. The dreamy production provided by newcomer Hill serves as a fitting soundtrack for Nas to deliver his lessons.

Further lyrical supremacy is displayed on “Blaze A 50,” a cinematic experience in which Nas tells a suspenseful tale of his encounter with a dangerous female over a dramatic orchestra-like arrangement. Wordplay reaches new heights on “Purple,” a trip through the mind of a man examining his own life and the world around him, while despair and depression of a man who is at the brink of destruction are conveyed masterfully on “Drunk By Myself.”

“The Lost Tapes,” simply put, is hip-hop music at its creative and conceptual zenith. Prepare to keep your finger near the rewind button at all times and expect to keep this disc in your CD player for long periods of time.

Nas is, without a doubt, the most complete MC in the game today, complete with all of the necessary skills, yet possessing them with a higher level of excellence than most rappers. Despite his at times questionable career choices and occasional contradictory actions, the level of lyrical skill Nas holds in his grasps is undeniable.

How he uses this power in the future can only be told through time but, with “The Lost Tapes,” rap listeners will find an audio masterpiece that will instantly strengthen their love and admiration for creative music.