Saturday Focus – Album Review – Nas_The Lost Tapes

The Lost Tapes

Compilation album by Nas
Released – September 23, 2002
Recorded – 1998–2001
Genre – Hip hop
Length – 43:02
LabelIll Will, Columbia
Producer – The Alchemist, Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie, Hill, Inc., L.E.S., Nas (exec.), Poke and Tone, Precision, Rockwilder, Al West

Nas chronology

Stillmatic(2001)
The Lost Tapes(2002)
God’s Son(2002)

The Lost Tapes is a compilation album by American rapper Nas, released September 23, 2002, on Ill Will Records and Columbia Records. It follows his artistic comeback in 2001, which led to his record label’s release of the album. The album compiles previously unreleased tracks that were discarded from recording sessions for Nas’ previous studio albums, I Am… (1999) and Stillmatic (2001). The songs feature production by L.E.S., The Alchemist, Poke and Tone, Precision, and Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie, among others. The Lost Tapes features a low-key, sparse sound and themes regarding sociology and urban life. Music writers have noted the album for its nostalgic tone, austere production, and Nas’ detailed narratives.

Released with little promotion, the album debuted at number 10 on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling over 70,000 copies in its first week. Upon its release, The Lost Tapes received universal acclaim from music critics, who praised its songs, production, and Nas’ lyricism. Although some critics viewed that it lacks a cohesiveness as an album, others called it Nas’ best album since his 1994 debut album Illmatic. As of July 2008, The Lost Tapes has sold 340,000 copies in the United States. A follow-up compilation album was expected to be released by Nas in 2010, but was delayed due to issues with his record label.

Background

In 2001, Nas made an artistic comeback with his fifth album Stillmatic and his highly-publicized feud with rapper Jay-Z.[1] Both revitalized his image in hip hop music at the time, following a string of commercially successful but critically subpar albums.[1] Nas’ record label, Columbia Records, capitalized on his comeback with a promotional campaign that included the release of two archival albums, the extended play From Illmatic to Stillmatic: The Remixes and The Lost Tapes, while leading up to the release of his 2002 studio album God’s Son.[2]

The liner notes for The Lost Tapes display the slogan “No cameos. No hype. No bullsh*t”, alluding to the nature of the compilation’s recordings.[3] The album’s booklet features artwork by Chris “C-Money” Feldman and photography by Kareem Black.[3]

Recording

The Lost Tapes compiles previously unreleased tracks recorded during 1998 to 2001 in the sessions for both Nas’ 1999 albums I Am… and Stillmatic.[4][5] Several songs from the sessions for the former album, including “Blaze a 50”, “Drunk by Myself”, and “Poppa Was a Playa”,[6] were bootlegged prior to its release and leaked to the Internet through MP3 technology,[7] which led to their exclusion from I Am….[8] Most of the compiled songs first became available as bootlegs on underground mixtapes before being selected and mastered for The Lost Tapes.[4]

Songs on The Lost Tapes were recorded in several recording studios in New York, including Right Track Studios, The Hit Factory Studios, and Sony Studios in New York City, Lobo Studios in Long Island, and Music Palace in West Hempstead, as well as South Beach Studios in Miami, Florida and Westlake Studios in Santa Monica, California.[3] Production was handled by The Alchemist, L.E.S., Poke and Tone, Precision, Rockwilder, Al West, Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie, and Hill, Inc.[3]

Music and lyrics

The Lost Tapes features sociological themes, narratives, and commentary on urban life.
The Lost Tapes features introspective lyrics and themes of urban life, sociology, and despair.[1][9] Its music is characterized by low-key beats,[10] sparse production, subtle string flourishes,[11] mellow piano work, and subdued soul music loops.[12]Stylus Magazine’s Brett Berliner views that songs such as “Doo Rags” and “No Idea’s Original” incorporates classical melodies, while songs such as “Purple” and “Fetus” feature neo-classical themes.[13] Music critic Nathan Rabin perceives “an undercurrent of pain and desperation” in Nas’ lyricism and notes “melancholy production that places an emphasis on Nas’ ferocious flow and incisive lyrics.”[1] John Bush of Allmusic writes that the songs “have more in common with his early recordings; there’s more of a back-in-the-day, wasn’t-it-all-so-simple-then sound to ‘Doo Rags’ and ‘Poppa Was a Playa,’ two tracks that definitely wouldn’t have fit on the raging Stillmatic.”[14]

Music writer Craig Seymour notes “spare beats” and few boasts in Nas’ rapping.[9] Chris Conti of the Boston Phoenix characterizes its music as “straight-ahead beats [that] counteract Nas’s complex bars of braggadocio and street-life storytelling.”[15] David Samuels of Slate interprets “a message that begins with a rejection of the materialism of his […] rival Jay-Z” and “the home truth about how most kids in the projects feel about the real-life gangstas who live in their neighborhoods”, citing “No Idea’s Original” as an example.[16]New York Daily News writer Jim Farber comments on his lyrical observations, “Nas focuses on linear scenarios and on human motivations”, and asserts that “unlike many hard rappers, Nas’ tales of ghetto horror are not covert boasts but expressions of true fear”, noting “a cinematic tale of self-destruction in ‘Drunk by Myself,’ and a compelling autobiography narrated from the womb in ‘Fetus.’ “[17]

Songs

The opening track “Doo Rags” contemplates Nas’ youth and society’s cyclical nature.[18] It features a contemporary piano loop and jazz tones.[5] Richard Hazell of HipHopDX describes the song as “a piano propelled painting of time and space as seen through the third eye of Nas, which can easily be envisioned by any New York City dweller.”[19] On “My Way”, he meditates over his rise out of poverty to the “life of a rich thug”,[19] recalls the death of his childhood friend Ill Will, and concedes that he “still feels broke with millions in the bank.”[20] On “U Gotta Love It”, Nas makes reference to the “’86 crack blitz” and discusses his own significance: “This thug life you claimed it, I make millions from entertainment / Now back in the hood, certain cats they wanna kill me / They ice-grill me, but on the low, niggas feel me.”[21] “Nothing Lasts Forever” advises to appreciate life’s small epiphanies and be optimistic about the future.[11] On “No Idea’s Original”, Nas notes the similarities of people in life and views other rappers as creatively derivative, while distinguishing himself from them:[22] “No idea’s original, there’s nothin new under the sun / It’s never what you do, but how it’s done / What you base your happiness around material, women, and large paper / That means you inferior, not major.”[6] He references the line “there’s nothing new under the sun” from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the song’s chorus.[16] “No Idea’s Original” samples Barry White’s 1973 song “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby”, a frequently sampled recording in hip hop music.[22]

“Poppa Was a Playa” was co-produced by Kanye West.
“Blaze a 50” features a violin-based instrumental and a complex narrative that follows a tale of murder,[23] sex, and betrayal.[20] Nas narrates the tale in conventional fashion until the ending, at which the track rewinds to an earlier point and he revises his original ending.[24] “Everybody’s Crazy” features complex rhymes and braggadocio rap by Nas: “Gangsta see, gangsta do / A Langston Hughes predecessor / Gun in my dresser, slang I use.”[15] In “Purple”‘s narrative, Nas lights up a blunt and expresses his thoughts, including criticism of hoodlums and their effect on their neighborhoods: “The ‘hood love you, but behind your back they pray for the day / A bullet hit your heart and ambulance take you away / That ain’t love it’s hate / Think of all the mothers at wakes / Whose sons you’ve killed and you ain’t got a cut on your face?”[25] “Drunk by Myself” has lyrics concerning alcohol and self-medication.[1]

“Black Zombie” is an impassioned, self-reflective critique of problems afflicting the African-American community, including prejudice (“You believe when they say we ain’t shit, we can’t grow / All we are is dope dealers and gangstas and hoes”), economic insolvency (“What do we own? The skin on our backs / We rent and we ask for reparations, then they hit us with tax”), and dependency (“I’ma Colombia record slave / So get paid / Control your own destiny, you are a genius / Don’t let it happen to you like it did to me, I was a black zombie”).[26] Its socially-conscious lyrics deride media stereotypes of African Americans, inequality in the educational system, and black-on-black violence.[20] According to writer Dax-Devlon Ross, the song foreshadowed the themes and “world view” of Nas’ subsequent albums.[26] “Poppa Was a Playa” features uncredited co-production by Kanye West,[27] and discusses Nas’ complicated relationship with his father, jazz musician Olu Dara, addressing his lusty, itinerant lifestyle throughout Nas’ youth.[28] Gabriel Alvarez of Complex calls it an “honest dedication to his old man: a jazz player, a rolling stone” and writes of the song, “The love is there despite the man’s faults. Nas crafts a full picture of the past, looking at the infidelity and fights from both parents’ perspectives.”[29]

An untitled hidden track follows “Poppa Was a Playa” and has Nas rapping from the perspective of his prenatal self.[1] It was originally recorded for I Am… and had planned titles “Fetus” and “Belly Button Window”.[8][30] The track opens with solemn guitar chords and the sound of bubbling liquid before being overlaid with a beat and a piano riff.[31] An introductory verse is delivered by Nas in a spoken word tone: “Yeah. I want all my niggas to come journey with me / My name is Nas, and the year is 1973 / The beginning of me / Therefore I can see / Through my belly button window / Who I am.”[31] The narrative follows the time before his birth, covering subject matter such as his parents fighting and his expectations for life.[32] In Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop (2009), writer Adam Bradley denotes the track’s lyrical narrative of an MC’s story of birth as “one of the core narratives in rap”, having its roots in a similar autobiographical convention found in African-American slave narratives. Of Nas’ narrative, Bradley states, “By endowing the insensible with voice, he aspires to an expressive level that transcends speaking for oneself, or of oneself, to one that self-consciously constructs itself as an artist giving shape to that which lacks coherence.”[31]

Commercial performance

The album was released by Ill Will Records and Columbia Records,[14] distributed through Sony Music Entertainment,[33] and had little promotion.[34] It was released on September 23 in the United Kingdom, September 24 in the United States,[35] October 9 in Japan, where it was issued with three bonus tracks,[36] and January 20, 2003, in Australia.[10]The Lost Tapes debuted at number 10 on the US Billboard 200 chart, with first-week sales of over 70,000 copies in the United States.[37] It spent eight weeks on the chart.[38] It also entered at number three on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.[39] As of July 2008, The Lost Tapes has sold 340,000 copies in the US, according to Nielsen SoundScan.[38]

In France, the album reached number 104 on the Syndicat National de l’Édition Phonographique’s albums chart, on which it remained for two weeks.[40] In Switzerland, it peaked at number 50 and spent three weeks on the Swiss Albums Top 100.[41]

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Review scores

SourceRating

Allmusic[14]
Boston Phoenix[15]
Robert ChristgauB+[42]
Entertainment WeeklyA−[8]
Pitchfork Media6.9/10[20]
Rolling Stone[12]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[43]
The Source[44]
Spin8/10[23]
Stylus MagazineB[13]

The Lost Tapes received universal acclaim from contemporary music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 82, based on 12 reviews.[45]Craig Seymour of Entertainment Weekly wrote that Nas’ “gritty, yet hopeful, reflections make Lost Tapes a real find.”[8] Jon Caramanica of Rolling Stone dubbed it “the real Stillmatic” and felt that it “displays Nas’ gifts for tightly stitched narrative and stunningly precise detail.”[12] Ken Capobianco of The Boston Globe stated, “These discarded songs are filled with the elements that made Nas such a promising artist in the beginning. Internal rhymes, blade-sharp narrative, a smooth sly flow without being beholden to ridiculous hooks.”[11]Boston Phoenix writer Chris Conti opined that his “trademark street-crime-rhyme” “rival that of Ice-T, G.Rap, and the late Big L”, and cited The Lost Tapes as “his most impressive album since his phenomenal 1994 debut, Illmatic.”[15]Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club called it “a filler-free tour de force” that “confirms Nas’ status as rap music’s poet laureate of urban despair” and stated, “Though essentially a collection of odds and ends, the disc sounds as cohesive and consistent as any of Nas’ proper studio albums.”[1] David Samuels of Slate described its recordings as “quasi-legendary” and called it “a long-awaited step forward from an artist who was uniquely burdened by the success of his first record”.[16]

Although he found the lyrics and production “fantastic”, Brett Berliner of Stylus Magazine observed a lack of cohesiveness and stated, “Separate, the songs all sound great, but together, they don’t make a real album … like a superb mixtape.”[13]Robert Christgau of The Village Voice gave the album a “B+”,[42] indicating “remarkable one way or another, yet also flirts with the humdrum or the half-assed.”[46] He viewed that the tracks eschew the thug persona of his previous work for “sensitivity” and stated, “Surrounding outtakes that were just outtakes is back-in-the-day recommended to Tim and Missy (even has some pronunciation in it) and four autobiographical pieces.”[42] Rashaun Hall of Billboard critiqued that, “while the production on some tracks is clearly dated, Nas’ lyrics are as crisp and vivid as ever.”[18] Chris Ryan of Spin praised its “brutal, honest, politically charged” content and viewed the album as a hip hop Basement Tapes, “a raw document [that] still proves that Nas had it all along.”[23] Marc L. Hill of PopMatters called The Lost Tapes “a necessary addition to the collection of any hip-hop fan” and found it to be “masterfully arranged”, writing that it “maintains a cohesiveness that almost makes you forget that you are not listening to a studio album.”[35]

Legacy

In The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), Chris Ryan found The Lost Tapes to be “somewhat inconsistent, and certainly too scattered to be considered an album per se,” but stated, “it contains some classics, such as the nostalgic ‘Doo Rags,’ that are not to be missed.”[43] In a retrospective review, Allmusic editor John Bush recommended it to “hip-hop fans who want to hear some great rhyming with no added features” and commented that tracks such as “Doo Rags”, “No Idea’s Original”, and “Black Zombie” “stand up to anything Nas has recorded since the original Illmatic.”[14] Jesal Padania of RapReviews commented that the album “proved remarkably consistent throughout, and was a superb listening experience” and considered it a studio release, stating “this was a short sharp shock of awesome lyricism, and many, unofficially, consider this to be the closest cousin we will ever get to Illmatic II.”[47] Pitchfork Media’s Ryan Dombal cited the album as one of Nas’ “finest moments”.[48]About.com’s Henry Adaso called it “noteworthy because of its superiority to half the stuff in Nas’ catalog.”[49] In its 2007 issue, XXL included The Lost Tapes in its list of “classic” albums to be given the publication’s maximum “XXL” rating.[50] In 2012, Complex included The Lost Tapes in their list of “25 Rap Albums From the Past Decade That Deserve Classic Status”.[51]

Sequel

A follow-up compilation, The Lost Tapes 2, was originally intended to be released on December 16, 2003, and include unreleased recordings, remixes, and freestyles tracks.[52] However, its release was delayed,[53] and in 2006, Nas signed to Def Jam Recordings.[54] In a June 2010 interview for Hot 97.5 KVEG, he said of following-up The Lost Tapes, “I do got a lot of songs that really didn’t make no album, that’s just sittin’ around [or] got lost. So I’ve got enough actually, for a Lost Tapes 2 and 3 by now. So I’ve just got to set it up, put them together – 12 songs for one album, 12 songs for another album, and figure it out. That’s all it takes.”[55] In September, he announced plans to release The Lost Tapes 2 on December 14.[48] However, its release was further delayed by Def Jam, whom Nas accused of mishandling the project and its budget in a personal e-mail sent to label executives.[56] Reports of the project’s delay incited fans to create an online petition in December asking for Def Jam to release the album.[57] After losing time to the project’s delay, Nas began recording for a new studio album and put plans for The Lost Tapes 2 on hold.[58][59] In a May 2011 interview for MTV News, he discussed the situation with the sequel and Def Jam, stating:

When I released Lost Tapes, it was on Sony. Being at Sony for so long, I was used to things going easy. Kinda easy. At Def Jam, I just got there, I’m still in my ways at Sony. I’m like, ‘yeah, this record’ll come out this time, a few months later I’ma drop this.’ But we just started working together, so they’re like, ‘We can do this, but wait, maybe we should do it like this,’ and I wasn’t used to that. And then there was no communication at all, and I wasn’t used to that. With Sony, I wasn’t used to a lot of communication, it was just, we understood what we were doing. […] Def Jam, it was more, ‘Let’s sit down, let’s have tea and talk this over.’ I wasn’t so used to that, and I saw kinda things falling behind. It kinda messed up my flow, I thought. The timing for that is gone. Now, it’s all about the new record.[60]
—Nas

Track listing

No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length

1.”Doo Rags”  Nasir Jones, Larry Gates, Michelle Lynn BellPrecision4:03
2.”My Way”  Jones, Alan MamanThe Alchemist3:55
3.”U Gotta Love It”  Jones, Leshan Lewis, Carlos Wilson, Louis Wilson, Ricardo WilsonL.E.S.3:18
4.”Nothing Lasts Forever”  Jones, LewisL.E.S.3:52
5.”No Idea’s Original”  Jones, Maman, Barry WhiteThe Alchemist3:04
6.”Blaze a 50″  Jones, L.E.S., Jean-Claude Olivier, Samuel BarnesL.E.S., Poke and Tone2:49
7.”Everybody’s Crazy”  Jones, Dana StinsonRockwilder3:35
8.”Purple”  Jones, Tommie SpearmanHill, Inc.3:39
9.”Drunk by Myself”  Jones, Al West, Barnes, OliverAl West, Poke and Tone4:03
10.”Black Zombie”  Jones, SpearmanHill, Inc.3:35
11.”Poppa Was a Playa”  Jones, Deric Angelettie, Allan Wayne Felder, Norman Ray HarrisDeric “D-Dot” Angelettie, Kanye West (co.)[27]7:09
Japan edition bonus tracks
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
12.”It Ain’t Hard to Tell” (Large Professor Remix)Highleigh Crizoe, Jones, William Paul MitchellLarge Professor2:51
13.”Affirmative Action” (Remix (featuring Foxy Brown and AZ))Dave Atkinson, Barnes, Anthony Cruz, Jones, Inga Marchand, Cory McKay, OlivierDave Atkinson, Poke and Tone3:23
14.”One Mic” (Remix)Tyrone Fyffe, Jones, James MtumeTy Fyffe4:34
Notes[3]
“U Gotta Love It” contains excerpts from the composition “Love Song” performed by Mandrill, written by Carlos Wilson, Louis Wilson, and Ricardo Wilson.
“No Idea’s Original” contains excerpts from “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby” written and performed by Barry White.
“Poppa Was a Playa” contains excerpts from the composition “The Newness Is Gone” written by Allan Wayne Felder and Norman Ray Harris, performed by Eddie Kendricks.
A hidden track begins at 3:49 of track 11.

Personnel

Credits for The Lost Tapes adapted from liner notes.[3]

The Alchemist – producer

Julian Alexander – artwork
Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie – producer
Pablo Arraya – assistant engineer, mixing assistant

Kareem Black – photography
Kevin Crouse – engineer, mixing
Chris “C-Money” Feldman – artwork
Bryan Golder – engineer
Paul Gregory – assistant engineer
Hill, Inc. – producer
Ken “Duro” Ifill – engineer
L.E.S. – producer
Nikki Martin – coordination
Jonathan Merritt – assistant engineer, mixing assistant
Nas – composer, executive producer
Lenny “Linen” Nicholson – A&R
Jake Ninan – assistant engineer
Poke and Tone – producer
Precision – producer
Rockwilder – producer
John Shriver – engineer
Grayson Sumby – assistant engineer, mixing assistant
Richard Travali – mixing
Al West – producer

Charts

Chart (2002)Peak position

French Albums Chart[40]104
Swiss Albums Charts[41]50
US Billboard 200[61]10
US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums[61]3

Red Everything Movement

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