The new Nas album hits stores Tuesday and easily qualifies as one of the key rap releases of 2001--and already one of the most controversial in the insular and harsh circles of New York rappers.
The title of "Stillmatic" is intended as a reminder to fans and peers that Nas is the same gifted street rhymer who energized the hip-hop world with his 1994 debut "Illmatic." Some have said the rapper has lost his creative way in more recent efforts, and he takes those critics to task on the new disc, but the most eye-opening attacks are for another star--Jay-Z, one of the commercial kings of New York rap.
The shots have been fired back and forth in recent history, and Nas brought in more artillery with the track "Ether" on the new disc (among the printable salvos: He slams Jay-Z's reputation as a tough guy and mocks him as a Joe Camel look-alike). Jay-Z has already responded with two tracks, one of them "Super Ugly," given to New York radio stations last week. Lyrical warfare is hardly new in rap, and, with the infamous (and often exaggerated) feud between East Coast and West Coast rappers, it ratcheted up tensions that many believe led to the deaths of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. No doubt Nas is aware of that history--his new video "Got Ur Self a Gun" offers reenactments of the murders of the two iconic rappers. Nas has told MTV he means no disrespect to the late rappers and instead included the scenes to acknowledge that the pair "died for hip-hop."
A thought that gives pause, but there's also another element to the Nas decision, one that his rival Jay-Z would grudgingly appreciate as well: "A little controversy," one retail executive noted last week, "does nothing but help when it comes to rap album sales. Rap is controversy."
Compiled by Times staff writers