Welcome to [istandard] and welcome to [The Chopping Block], where we respond and react to music from the creator point of view. In the tradition of our classic Track-By-Track series, we get into the beats, bpms, mix, arrangement, penmanship, vocal production, panning, low-passing, mixing, mastering and more. Respect the creators!
When I heard that we would be getting a Kanye West-produced Nas album, I was excited. Think about it. First of all, the album is finally done. How long have we been waiting for that? Also, we have super producer, Kanye West and legendary wordsmith, Nas working together.
Off of the optics alone, many would argue that this is a musical match made in heaven. The celestial potential of this collaboration will be put to the test on The Chopping Block.
Nas June 15th
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 22, 2018
While the album is exec-produced by Kanye, you can stay clued into the full list of collaborators by checking the NASIR album credits here.
Track 1 - Not For Radio ft. Diddy & 070 Shake
Escobar season begins! I'm getting "Hate Me Now" vibes. From the introductory Diddy vocals to the cinematic soundscape, it is reminiscent. 070 Shake's vocal production is tight and brings an interesting breakdown in Nas's performance.
In the midst of that, I also feel Kanye's sporadic artistic nature pushing through. Diddy's vocals drop in roughly, throughout. It all creates a bit of a colliding feeling, at times. Maybe he was going for an epic feeling on Track 1.
"Not for Radio" contains samples of "Hymn to Red October (Main Title)" from The Hunt for Red October by Basil Poledouris.
Track 2 - Cops Shot The Kid ft. Kanye West
The intro to this song is good! It's a part of the storytelling. Shout out to Richard Pryor for the Wattstax dialogue. The Slick Rick "Children's Story" sample in and of itself leads me to a storytelling vibe again.
From a production standpoint, I understand it. To be honest, the sonics are pretty simple. I might even say lazy. If you're enjoying this one, it's due to the message in the raps. The beat is simple, but it provides Nas with a consistent scape to glide on.
I haven't cared for Kanye raps in a while. His contribution on this track is fitting, lyrically, but his antics leave him looking like a less than credible source.
Track 3 - White Label
I'm over the song intros with samples of people talking. I want to get to the beat itself right away. When we do get to the music, I'm liking what I hear. It's vocal chop heaven with pieces of Shahram Shabpareh's "Prison Song" and what I believe are Super Beagle (remember "Mercy") vocals.
The song is really built off of sampling "Prison Song." On the flip side, the issue is that I'm listening to the beat trying to hear the nuances and vocal samples, but Nas is rapping at the same time. It's clashing.
Nas is a bar-heavy artist and the instrumental has a lot going on. This is a bad choice production wise because it's difficult to take in so many pieces at once. The choir/pad outro is a weird choice. It's like they just threw that in there to switch things up even more, but it comes off as out of place.
Track 4 - Bonjour ft. Tony Williams
This joint is luxury adjacent. I feel wealthier already. After a couple more plays, I'll be on a private jet to Paris to catch another flight to meet up with my accountant in the mountains in Wyoming. It's super smooth and feels like a film.
"Bonjour" contains samples of "Dance Music" from Mukti by R. D. Burman, so that makes sense. Rahul Dev Burman (27 June 1939 – 4 January 1994) was an Indian film score composer, and one of the influential music directors of the Indian film industry. There is also a small sample from the movie Paid In Full at the 1:56 mark.
Track 5 - everything ft. The-Dream & Kanye West
The mellow mood of the bass line and piano chord progression matches Kanye and The-Dream's vocal contribution. I'm questioning the Kanye part, though. It's not a content issue at all. I'm feeling the lyrics. However, whenever I hear a song that has multiple features on it that execute similar things, I question why they are all there.
I think a Nas and The-Dream final cut would be more effective. People have had a lot of Kanye over the past few months, in general. Give The-Dream this space. I haven't heard a lot of work from him lately and I think that would have been a nice bonus for listeners.
Production is more than beats. It's our final product as it lives in time and space. The overall audience and social environment should be taken into account for the best final product. I got halfway through the song and started to wonder when it was going to end. It turns out that is has a 7:32 run time. The song starts to drag by Nas's second verse.
The supporting vocals throughout the song are heavenly. I'd listen to them separately on repeat if I could get the track outs.
Track 6 - Adam and Eve ft. The-Dream
A sample of Kourosh Yaghmaei's "Gole Yakh" gets things going from the start of "Adam and Eve." The piano riffs tickle ours and give a classic feel. It's nostalgic in a way. Even if you've never listened to the song, it feels familiar.
I like Nas over this one. He's in his zone as a lyricist. It's good beat selection, in the sense that it fits what he needs. Give him a simple composition that gives him space to spit.
Track 7 - Simple Things
The sample starts off in a way that draws the ear in. You want to hear more. It feels melodically pleasing. As it progresses, it seems like the chops or the notation is off. It isn't pleasing. Your ear is trying to follow it, but it doesn't gives us directions.
It was a good call to let this track finish up at 2:19. I'm ready for it to be over. Nas doesn't have a strong performance on the song. He doesn't hit with that "POW" to finish the album on a high note.
Nasir fails me as a listener, overall. The album is dull and doesn't give me much reason to run back and replay it. The biggest wins might be the features from The-Dream.
This project reminds me of it's executive producer, Kanye, due its inability to make us want more. Maybe, this is a case of art imitating life. When Kanye returned to social media, most recently, he didn't seem like he maintained a solid train of thought. He appeared sporadic, rushed, and lacking in reason. All of which isn't associated with a top producer. The album's final production follows its leader.
Nas has proven himself as a phenomenal emcee many, many years ago. We know he is a top lyricist. The final product feels flat. This is an album the people have been waiting for. Why does it feel unfinished and unpolished in so many areas?
The 7 song strategy makes sense for Nas, in theory. I'm expecting to be given a lot to chew on in that amount of songs and maybe I was given that. I believe the issue is that the beats don't measure up. If I'm getting an album with this much fanfare and expectation from Kanye West as the executive producer, I want him to come through and create a piece of work that has lasting impact.
Maybe, Kanye was inundated with work. There are many albums that dropped this month from his camp. Did the workload take away from the quality? Is he being stretched too thin?
I'm curious about who is around all the sessions and saying that these songs were the best tracks for the album. Were these all really Nas's best joints? Things aren't adding up.
Let's be honest. We have an album led and created by two of Hip Hop's top talents. Kanye and Nas are some of the best at what they respectively do best and they don't have one song on here that makes me want to listen over and over again.