I Am...

I Am...

In the five years since his debut album, Nas had grown from New York’s most visionary teenager into one of rap’s richest and most recognizable stars, and the struggle to maintain his superstar status without sacrificing his loyalty to the ghetto that created him had become more severe than ever. Originally designed as a double album, dozens of songs were discarded after being put online in one of the industry’s first major MP3 leaks. Rather than just wanting to be king of Queens, or king of New York, Nas now sounds like he wants nothing less than to be king of the world. Beats that were once smooth and stealthy have turned into the bombast of “Hate Me Now,” “Small World,” and “Big Things.” There are more pop concessions than ever before, and at times it’s hard to believe the man on “You Won’t See Me Tonight” and “K-I-S-S-I-N-G” is the same person who delivered Illmatic and It Was Written. Yet, no amount of label pressure or identity crisis could obscure Nas’ nimble mind. “Favor For A Favor,” “Nas is Like,” and “N.Y. State of Mind Part II” are all classics in the man’s catalogue, while the clumsy beats of “Money is My Bitch,” “Undying Love” and “Dr. Knockboot” disguise some of Nas’ most devastating lyricism.

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