The most recent Nas album is easily superior to the albums that debuted on or around its release. Though often lauded for a stream of consciousness that elevates discussions of women, money and material, Nas still very much meditates on these things. On the album we hear his raspy flow boast of the caliber of his crushes “my worst batch kills off your best cutie” and of how whites haunted his early mansions. Yet, nevertheless Nas’ lyrical talent and cognitive depth is evident.
A King From Queens?
On “Not for Radio” he presents fans with a number of facts they will not encounter in the history books or a college classroom. On “Cops Shot the kid” Nas lyrically tackles the legal war against black bodies, over an infectious beat that espouses a past sound with a persistent problem. On “everything” he counters greed with a stream of consciousness about what fame and money, and living beyond perception and the demands of western culture. And on the “simple things” he leaves reader with the album’s most poignant song ending where he exhibits a the selflessness of a parent. Nas turns a compliment he received into a wish for his children, “ I just want my kids to have the same peace I’m blessed with.” Peace being a common dream most parents have for their children.
There is great beauty on Nas’s album, and as an educator and student of life, I have an appreciation for his attempt to feed the contemporary need for “feel” music. The season has seemingly arrived for a content he has always provided. Content that depicts the Nas on record as exhibiting a desire for purpose not popularity.
In acknowledging Nas’ album as fire, it is essentially that his feet are held to the fire. What I reference here is the Nas off record. Off record, Nas’ intellectual depth seems phantasmal as his actions depict him as manifesting the very evils he seems to confront in his music.
Cultural Appropriator + Cultural Icon
A common occurrence in our contemporary climate, is the alignment of revered black figures with cultural appropriators. Perhaps the most notable reference to this deed is Kanye West. West’s contentious recording “All Falls Down” and “Jesus Walks” to name a few, separated him from the slew of mainstream rappers who veered away from analyzing their black experience to sell records. When he choose to settle down, he did so with cultural appropriator Kim Kardashian, This espousal not only gave Kardashian two black daughters of which she can live vicariously through, but entry into doorways held open by the stardom and creativity of West, ie The Vogue Cover. Most violently, West functions as Kim’s binary opposite. His behavior and comments paint her as a white savior, and not the horizontal heiress she is.
So when Kanye West stated that “slavery is a choice”, he speaks from the perspective of a slave who has chosen his own fate. The bodies stolen off the shores of Africa may have been enslaved, but many of them were never slaves. Mainstream hip hip makes slaves of its listeners and artists who are veiled consumers of white capitalism. They do not “produce” anything but the contents of white supremacist imagination.
Nas too is aligned with cultural appropriator called “restauranteur” John Seymour. Seymour co-owns the restaurant Sweet Chick— known for its chicken and waffles. Chicken and waffles was of course a dish invented by Wells of Harlem, a dish that combines northern and southern cuisine. A symbol of black displacement, chicken and waffles is more than food, it is symbol of blacks making something out of the nothing western culture tried to make of our bodies through centuries of disenfranchisement, For a white man to use this dish as a means to make a profit is one thing, to do so under the consignment of a black man is fatal. On “Adam and Eve” Nas speaks of purchasing the land plowed by his ancestors. Yet, his involvement with Sweet Chik, which has provided yet another means for white oppressors to functions as executives, speaks to seeking to co-own a plantation with your oppressor.
Unlike his oppressor, Nas is not robbing his laborers of wealth. Rather, this venture has proved a gateway to creating more white collar jobs for his oppressors. I say this not to attack Nas the man, but to critique Nas the artist and image. Though this post is largely engaged with Nas, and his most recent project, my goal is not to make a collective issue singular. Nas and the “conscious” rapper need to be approached with the same grain of salt as their mumble rap contenders, both issuing diverse approaches to a similar poison.
Confusion: Salt in the Wound
The placement of cultural appropriators alongside cosigning black bodies confuses an already confused demographic. To the confused, the cosigning black body seems to truly have a vestment in the black collective. This placement is a functional act of deceptions designed to burn a candle of consumerism on both ends. By this I mean that Nas and his fanbase both function as consumers, as both illustrate those who are trying to “win” at white society rather than exist in a black world they would have to create.
Nas’ latest album is a testament to mainstream rap, hip hop, or the latter, as a performative act designed to steer the black collective into a form of sleepwalking, where we eventually walk off the cliff. Mainstream hip hip or rap, oversimplifies the black experience, it sensationalizes our struggle for white profit and white enjoyment. The caricatures of our conflict, deem the black experience a means for whites to play dress up with our detriment, while the confused dance, fornicate, and smoke to the soundtrack of our systemic asphyxiation.
Though I am not quite sure one can listen without hearing the message consciously or subconsciously embedded in toxic tunes, I encourage those who listen to any seemingly conscious artist, with complete understanding that they listen to the inaudible voice that tells blacks that the closest we’ll ever get to freedom is beside a white man, or woman.
May the many black faces that admire the systemically engineered image of the conscious rapper look at what they do, rather than listen to what they say.
Black Power ❤