Rather than retreat from the thematic weight of Hip Hop Is Dead, Nas is even more ambitious than its predecessor. Some would argue that's not a good thing, yet the rapper’s ferocious intelligence and skill give the album a magnetic energy. It finds Nas taking on the right-wing media (“Sly Fox”), dissecting the controversy surrounding the use of the N-word (“N.I.*.*.E.R.”), and submitting an ambiguous, if impassioned, endorsement of Barack Obama (“Black President”). Even when Nas is at his most bizarre, he manages to find new ways to analyze the African-American experience. Witness him talking to his KFC dinner on the snappy Mark Ronson production “Fried Chicken,” or taking on the point of view of a cockroach on “Project Roach.” Musically, the best songs benefit from a bit of restraint. In “You Can’t Stop Us Now,” a tour through two-hundred years of black history is backed by a pensive sample from the Whatnauts’ classic “Message From a Black Man,” while the simmering sounds of “Testify” can barely conceal the narrator’s seething rage.

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