It’s an understatement to say that when it comes to discussions regarding the ‘greatest of all-time’, Nas is a serious contender in the pantheon of Hip-Hop heavyweights. For close to thirty years Nasir Jones has time and time again proved himself to be a master storyteller, a razor-sharp lyricist, a world-class showman and one of the most poignant, introspective poets of modern contemporary U.S. culture. With a discography that spans over eleven solo albums, several collaborative efforts, as well as numerous mixtapes and guest appearances too plentiful to realistically all list here; it is not by mistake or accident that Nas is lauded as one of the most talented emcees to ever pick up the mic. And while Nas is oftentimes regarded as one of the greatest wordsmiths in the genre, in recent years the Queensbridge emcee has managed to garner another less flattering reputation; that being the inability to select decent production on his projects. If there is one criticism that has been consistently levied against Nas, his Achilles heel in eyes of many critics (and even fans) has been his less than stellar record with production selection throughout the course of his career. Unfortunately, with albums like The Lost Tapes II, the latest offering from Nasty Nas; it proves very difficult to argue against such sharp and persistent accusations.
Coming just hardly more than a year after his last album, the critically and financially underwhelming Nasir produced by Kanye West; Nas has quickly returned to the mic with yet another offering. This time in the form of a sequel to his surprise hit compilation album The Lost Tapes, naturally entitled The Lost Tapes II. Coming nearly seventeen years after the release of its predecessor back in late 2002, The Lost Tapes II is another compilation album comprised of unreleased material from an eleven period that was recorded between 2006 and 2017 during the sessions for Nas’ previous studio albums Hip-Hop Is Dead, Untitled, Life Is Good and Nasir. For years Nas has teased and taunted fans with sparse, often vague and cryptic updates regarding the album’s status and release date. But, due to mismanagement and disagreements with Def Jam (whom Nas is signed with) the album was continuously delayed and pushed back for years on end. So much so that many fans had doubts as to whether the album would ever get a release at all. However, in early June via his Instagram account, Nas announced that the long-awaited compilation album would be released soon. Followed by a brief trailer, album art and production credits revealed earlier this month. While its predecessor was met with widespread acclaim from critics and fans alike upon its release, with many critics praising the album for its sparse, gritty, low-key production which meshed perfectly with the introspective, observational lyrics of Nas intertwined with autobiographical and nostalgic themes. In fact, the album has garnered such a favorable reputation that The Lost Tapes is considered by many fans as one of Nas’ best albums, with some even ranking it up with his groundbreaking debut Illmatic. Even the album’s liner notes came packaged adorned with the, “No cameos. No hype. No bullsh*t”. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about its successor.
First, it should be said that The Lost Tapes II contains no unreleased material from Nas’ tenure while he was signed to Columbia Records. So, anyone hoping for lost demos or any unreleased songs from the 90’s or any material that pre-dates Hip-Hop Is Dead will be sorely disappointed. On paper the producer line-up featured on The Lost Tapes II actually looks pretty promising, the sixteen-track album features production from an assortment of producers such as Pete Rock, The RZA, Statik Selektah, The Alchemist, No I.D., Swizz Beatz, Pharrell, and Kanye West amongst many others. However, this veneer quickly wears off the deeper and deeper fans’ progress into the album. While nearly double the underwhelming twenty-six-minute runtime of its predecessor Nasir, clocking in at just under an hour at fifty-five minutes The Lost Tapes II can be a very laborious exercise, often feeling like a much longer listen than it actually is. The album starts off with ‘No Bad Energy’ a generic but par for the standard Nas offering produced by Swizz Beatz to set the tone. ‘Lost Freestyle’ produced by Statik Selektah features decent but otherwise plain production; a disappointment considering how Statik is arguably one of the biggest purveyors of modern contemporary Boom-Bap production coming out of New York today. However, The Lost Tapes II features not one but, two production credits from The RZA, leader of the legendary Wu-Tang Clan. The first entry is ‘Tanasia’, featuring some very unique orient inspired production from The RZA and decent storytelling on Nas’ end; unfortunately, the track also sports perhaps one of the most cringeworthy and uninspired choruses from Nas in recent memory as well. ‘Highly Favored’ the second track on the album produced by The RZA features less memorable and very generic production; but unfortunately, that which has come to be expected from the Wu-Tang leader. The Pete Rock assisted ‘The Art of It’ J. Meyers is a brief, much appreciated highlight present on The Lost Tapes II, however while it’s refreshing to see to Nas collaborate with Pete Rock for the first time since Illmatic the song sounds more like a re-tread of old material than a reunion between old friends. This aspect is made that much more pronounced given that the two samples that make up the track’s production consist of Naughty by Nature’s ‘Uptown Anthem’ and Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s own ‘Straighten It Out’. Unfortunately, by in large most of the album’s other subsequent offerings do little to redeem the album’s prior missteps. Perhaps one of the worst songs featured on the album is ‘Jarreau of Rap (Skatt Attack)’. While the song is not the worst or most annoying piece of production Nas has ever rapped over during the course of his entire career (that honor still goes ‘Cops Shot The Kid’) it is easily the most annoying track featured through the run time of The Lost Tapes II. Much like ‘Cops Shot The Kid’ featured on Nasir the song features an annoying, repetitive sample; and once again it is also the song Nas felt most confident to release as the album’s lead single. Another particularly cringe-worthy entry on the album is the Hit-Boy produced ‘Royalty’. With backup vocals courtesy of RaVaughn who also sings the chorus, ‘Royalty’ ends up sounding more like some long-lost Pussycat Dolls collaboration that somehow found its way into the mix. Needless to say, despite featuring one of the most in-demand contemporary producers behind the boards the song is among one of the blandest and generic offerings.
While there are no real genuine ‘ah-ha moments’ on The Lost Tapes II if there is one stand out joint that does resonate then the single highlight of the album would undoubtedly have to go to the Eric Hudson produced ‘Who Are You?’; a deep and introspective dive into representation, identity and respectability politics in the Black community. While most tracks featured on The Lost Tapes II by their very nature are throwaways and seldom touch on any subject of any meaningful depth, aside from few skin-deep references here and there made by Nas; ‘Who Are You?’ is the one lone exception present on the album that actually manages to strike an emotional chord and tap into that deep well of self-reflection and introspection Nas has come be known for incorporating into his music. Coupled with lush strings, soulful production and backup vocals from David Ranier on the hook, ‘Who Are You?’ is the only moment present on The Lost Tapes II that ever truly sounds and feels like a lost fully fleshed out developed song that genuinely probably deserved a spot on one of Nas’ official studio albums. Following this, Pete Rock makes his second and final appearance on The Lost Tapes II with ‘Queensbridge Politics’ a low-key introspective track that finds Nas trying to find closure for Prodigy (of Mobb Deep) who did not end on good terms with many people because of his book My Infamous Life: The Autobiography of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy published several years prior to his death following his long-time battle with sickle cell anemia. Accompanied by a slick cool piano sample Nas attempts to address and dissect the disrespect that lingers even after the Prodigy’s passing due to his failure to mend ties with the community before his untimely passing. Aside from ‘Who Are You?’, the track is the only song present on The Lost Tapes II that ever makes a genuine attempt at tackling any serious or heavy subject matter. Immediately following this, concluding the album is the No I.D. assisted ‘Beautiful Life’. Clocking in at a lengthy six minutes and forty seconds, the track (undoubtedly a leftover from Nas’ Life Is Good) is by far the longest song present on The Lost Tapes II. While the song does manage to close the album on a positive and somewhat uplifting note, it, unfortunately, does very little in the way of offsetting the rest of the album’s tracklisting. This late in the album, at a run time of fifty-five minutes, the track simply offers too little, far too late and ultimately amounts to an underwhelming conclusion to an already underwhelming, uninspired album.
At the end of the day, perhaps one of the most glaring key elements lacking from the album is the presence of structure and direction. While most past Nas albums feature an overlying theme or general concept; this is an element that is practically impossible to re-create on a compilation that is essentially an amalgamation of different records cobbled together from multiple albums over the course of more than a decade. While the original Lost Tapes may have been a rare example where quality material was recovered from the scrap heap of history, salvaging hold-over tracks that were tossed simply due to time constraints, sample clearance issues or label politics; it is exceedingly apparent that there are no lost classics present here on The Lost Tapes II. Nas’ second-string material may have been worthy of an official release in the late 90’s and early 2000’s; but the same cannot be said about his unreleased catalog post-signing to Def Jam. On The Lost Tapes II Nas never truly manages to ever find his rhythm on the album; and to be real, there are better sounding and quite frankly more inspired unreleased songs and demos from Nas floating around online (I.E. ‘Be Right’, ‘Foul Breeze’, ‘Film’ etc.) than what’s present on The Lost Tapes II. As much as it pains me to say, The Lost Tapes II is yet another subpar album from Nas and a far cry from standards and expectations set by its predecessor. In fact, when measured up against Nas’ own past work the album is easily among one of his worst albums released yet to date. The problem is, unlike its predecessor The Lost Tapes II sounds exactly like what it is; a hodgepodge compilation comprised of half-formed ideas, outtakes, and throwaways that were never actually intended to see anything but the cutting room of the studio floor.
Perhaps The Lost Tapes II had the unfair burden of living up to inflated expectations and to deliver after a near decade long delay; coupled with the fact that ultimately its make-up is that of shelved and discarded material. Coming off the heels of last year’s disappointment which was Nasir; it should have been a cinch to deliver a brief, principled and well-executed follow-up to offset the bad taste left by Kanye West on last summer’s release. Instead, what we are ultimately given is yet another rushed, soulless project that is quite literally the table scraps not worthy of an official Nas album. It seems that it’s worth reiterating the sentiment that given Nas’ track record in recent years perhaps it may be ultimately best for him to begin the transition to the role of executively producing projects and mentoring up-and-coming artists; gracefully pulling back from a career of being a full-time recording artist. Because, in short, what Nas has delivered in just the span of the past year is nothing more than a hallow, uninspired shadow of the master storyteller and expert lyricist Hip-Hop have come to love and respect. While hardcore Nas fans starved and desperate for any new material will undoubtedly sing its praise, for the average casual fan The Lost Tapes II hardly warrants a second listen. Once some time has elapsed and enough distance has been accumulated from its initial release The Lost Tapes II will likely sit alongside Nasir at the bottom of the barrel of Nas’ catalog. And that perhaps is the best analogy one could use to describe the compilation in the most straight forward and simplest terms. On The Lost Tapes II Nas sounds like an artist that is simply out of ideas. A performer that is scrapping the bottom of the proverbial barrel by repackaging the table scraps and throwaways of far better albums from years ago. While it’s hard to get mad about an album that for lack of a better term is entirely comprised of the holdovers and second-string material of better albums; especially a record called The Lost Tapes II even some of the most ardent Nas fans are likely to be deeply disappointed by the rather tepid offering from the God Son this time around.
The Lost Tapes II is currently available on digital platforms as well to stream on Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music, Prime Music. Physical copies on vinyl, cassette and CD are available and can be purchased exclusively on Nas’ own official website.
02. Vernon Family (prod. by Pharrell Williams)
03. Jarreau of Rap feat. Al Jarreau and Keynon Harrold (prod. by Eddie Cole)
04. Lost Freestyle (prod. by Statik Selektah)
05. Tanasia (prod. by RZA)
06. Royalty feat. RaVaughn (prod. by Hit-Boy)
07. Who Are You feat. David Ranier (prod. by Eric Hudson)
08. Adult Film feat. Swizz Beatz (prod. by Swizz Beatz)
09. War Against Love (prod. by DJ Dahi and DJ Khalil)
10. The Art Of It feat. J. Myers (prod. by Pete Rock)
11. Highly Favored (prod. by RZA)
12. Queens Wolf (prod. by DJ Toomp)
13. It Never Ends (prod. by The Alchemist)
14. You Mean the World to Me (prod. by Kanye West)
15. Queens Bridge Politics (prod. by Pete Rock)
16. Beautiful Life feat. RaVaughn (prod. by No I.D.)