I was listening to some post-his-prime Nas today (particularly the track ) and was really trying to articulate just WHY this man is the most aesthetically pleasing lyricist of all-time.
*Again, I want to be clear that with Nas, specifically post- It Was Written & a couple tracks on I Am, we know content is basically out of the equation.*
I think it comes down to these key elements of flow:
1) Nas’ ability to deftly & precisely maintain a high syllabic content line for line is difficult, if not impossible to emulate, while still holding a normal cadence. Take this line on verse 2 on the Nasty track:
Silent rage, pristine in my vintage shades
I’m not in the winters of my life or the beginner stage, I am the dragon
As a former eMCee who has attempted to mimic all kinds of eMCees doing all kinds of flows, a line like this – potentially awkward timing, a ‘line after line’ (line 2) element and a rhyme prior to restarting a new rhyme are all factors that can throw an eMCee off his smooth train. Not so with Nas.
2) as John Wooden says, “be quick, but don’t hurry.” Play this segment, also in Verse 2, and note the difficult complexity of what he’s doing here – again, many words/syllables but nothing forced. He let’s the rhyme come to him, and with this kind of structure that’s near impossible.
Past nasty now, I’m gross and repulsive
Talk money, is you jokin’? Cash everywhere, in my bank, in the sofa
In the walls, in the cars, in my wallet, in my pocket
On the floors, ceiling, the safe, bitch
I got all you envy, but don’t offend
I’m skinny, but still I’m too big for a Bentley
You are your car, what could represent?
Too Godly to be a Bugatti, you honestly
Must design me somethin’ Tommy Mottonic from Queens had before the ’90s
3) Nas maintains a conversational tone while flowing. VERY underrated factor, and something many eMCees just can’t avoid (Eminem most obvious, M.O.P., Pharoahe Monche, etc). I personally think there’s a time & place for screaming/singing/etc (again, whole other discussion), but the smooth vocals of just. . .conversation. . .are what make Nas’ flows so aurally pleasing.
Also, Nas = Stephon Marbury?
Additionally, You know one of my fave hip hop things to do is say, “_____ rapper is
like _____ basketball player.” Love the obvious potential for analogy
in the art, aesthetic and execution of each; not to mention similar
culture just makes it obvious sometimes.
Nas has always been sui generis, though – how to classify a cat that
was so utterly beautiful, executed on such a high plane only to fall –
not precipitously, but gradually. . .but still maintaining flashes of
brilliance, enough even to go toe-to-toe 20 years later, at least in
argument. . .which brings me to Starbury.
I think stylistically, Star may have been the most gorgeous, smooth &
precise cat to grace the court in our lifetime. I’m in no way putting
him up there AS A PLAYER with Kobe, Mike, even LeBron and def not
Iverson. BUT, the kid from Brooklyn with the silky 20-footer, the deft
three point shot, the no-look passing guaranteeing 10 dimes/game and
the CONTROLLED quickness (as opposed to AI, let’s say, whose reckless
quickness was advantageous nonetheless) combined with the ball control
of Chris Paul and driving ability of Dwyane Wade who could leap like
Mike? And at 6 foot even, if that??!
Fact is we know how the Starbury story turned out, but we don’t also
appreciate his four year run averaging 23.5/10.5/5. Even toward the
end, when motivated, he was unstoppable. Shoot, today I hear he’s
dropping 30/game in China:oP
Alas, Star can be Nas and Nas can be Star, save for the fact that as
you said, Mr. Escobar has his Trophy on the mantle already. But
aesthetically, stylistically and perhaps most important in regard to
career & emotional trajectory, you gotta admit there’s something