In the past nine months, Nas has proved masterful at wagging the dog. Since last October, when he first announced his intentions to name his new Def Jam album “N*ger,” he’s drawn all kinds of responses: ire from African-American activist the Rev. Al Sharpton, but support from Def Jam chairman/CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid. Then after retail distributors, which neither Def Jam nor Nas would identify, claimed they wouldn’t carry an album called “N*gger,” Nas rechristened it as an untitled project, starting yet another round of debate.
Aside from the new name, or lack thereof, Nas’ subject matter is rare. Especially in contemporary commercial hip-hop, which sells everything from mobile phones to fast food, and the three hip-hop songs atop Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart — Plies’ “Bust It Baby Part 2” and Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” and “A Milli” — focus on sex and braggadocio. However, Nas says he recorded the album with a balance of education and entertainment in mind.
“I didn’t want to ‘n*gger’ my audience to death,” he says. “So ‘Be a N*gger Too,’ which I recently released a video for, isn’t on the album. It didn’t fit. The entire record deals with the concept, but every song couldn’t be ‘n*gger.’ I had to pace myself.”
The album includes production and features from Cool & Dre, Green Lantern, Mark Ronson, Polow Da Don, Busta Rhymes, Keri Hilson, Chris Brown and Stargate. Throughout, Nas finds creative ways to address his chosen subject matter. On the Rhymes-featuring “Fried Chicken,” Nas uses a woman as a metaphor for soul food and black people’s attraction to deadly eating habits. (“Mrs. Fried Chicken/fly vixen/give me heart disease but still I need you in my kitchen,” he raps.)