The Lost Tapes

The Lost Tapes

The beginning of Nas’ career is straight out of a hip-hop fairy tale: He earned praise as a prodigy with an appearance on Main Source’s “Live at the Barbeque,” where he audaciously rhymed that he “went to hell for snuffing Jesus”; lived up to the hype with the all-time classic 1994 debut album Illmatic; and earned success on the charts a few years later with his hit single “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That),” from his sophomore album It Was Written. But in the subsequent years, he weathered tumult. His ambitious plans for a double-disc called I Am… were thwarted by leaks, leading him to record a heft of new songs for its eventual 1999 release. He dropped his critically panned fourth album Nastradamus in the same year, convincing listeners that the insightful street poet had lost his way for a materialistic and impersonal version of himself. A triumphant battle with JAY-Z and the back-to-basics 2001 album Stillmatic conveyed a reinvigorated return to his roots. But 2002’s The Lost Tapes—a collection of unreleased songs that were bastardized by leaks and industry red tape—proved that Nas had never really lost his way in the first place. Most albums featuring unreleased material are perceived as vaults of throwaways with flashes of brilliance—stuff that wasn’t good enough to make the final cut of studio albums. But The Lost Tapes has some of the most focused and impressive songs of Nas’ career. Many of the collection’s 12 songs are overtly autobiographical and introspective, showing his original vision for I Am...: “Doo Rags” is an impressionistic recollection of his childhood in 1980s Queensbridge; “Drunk By Myself” finds Nas isolating himself into a depressive, self-destructive stupor; and the album closers “Poppa Was a Playa” and “Fetus” take a hyper-conceptual approach to observing his family’s actions and pondering their impact on his own behavior. But The Lost Tapes doesn’t rely solely on diaristic memories: “Black Zombie” pleads for listeners to aspire beyond stereotypes and oppressive systems, while “No Idea’s Original” and “Purple” are sharp, stream-of-consciousness rhymes that spark like lightning in a bottle. These cuts could have completely changed the perception of Nas’ less lauded works, but as is, The Lost Tapes is proof that Nas has more heat on his cutting-room floor than most have ever touched.

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