Nas shifts from “Nigger” to “Untitled”

The neverending hype machine surrounding Nas’ new album — which has lasted for nearly a year now — will subside when Def Jam releases it on July 15.

The big news is that after months of pressure from his record company and sundry self-styled activists, Nas finally caved in and removed its controversial title, Nigger. “Record stores are gonna have a problem in this day and time selling a record with that title,” he told MTV.com. In a subsequent press statement, he tried to explain why he backed down: “I want my fans to know that creatively and lyrically, they can expect the same content and the same messages. It’s that important. The streets have been waiting for this for a long time. The people will always know what the real title of this album is and what to call it.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that Nas has turned into a coward. Back in 2002, Nas was scheduled to headline Hot 97’s Summer Jam, thanks to the widespread belief that he “won” his famous battle against Jay-Z. (Or rather, Jay-Z “lost” by going too far with “Super Ugly.”) Nas allegedly wanted to use a number of props celebrating his “victory,” including a noose and an effigy of Jay-Z. But Hot 97 (WOHT-FM 97.1) wouldn’t allow him to use the props. (Nas denied that he planned to use an effigy and a noose in his performance.)

Angrily, Nas canceled his appearance without an official explanation. He then gave an interview to Hot 97’s rival, Power 105 (WWPR-FM 105.1), and alleged that many of Hot 97’s top DJs, including Angie Martinez and Funkmaster Flex, took bribes from major labels in exchange for playing artists on their shows. “A whole evil empire funded by a bunch of other evil empires, Def Jam is one of them – that’s giving [Hot 97] money to play all they artist records,” Nas, who was signed to Columbia at the time, claimed during the interview.

However, by the end of 2002, Nas retracted his statements in order to promote his then-new album, God’s Son, on Angie Martinez’s highly-rated show. In his analysis of Nas’ surprising shift, Entertainment Weekly Evan Serpick wrote, “It’s a sad week for hip-hop. Tuesday morning, Nas, one of the most talented rappers and outspoken critics on earth, appeared on New York’s Hot 97 radio station and completed his transformation into the biggest sell-out on the planet.”

Worse, a subsequent 2005 investigation led by former New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer revealed that Nas’ allegations were essentially true. (Though Funkmaster Flex has often been accused of participating in pay-for-play schemes, which is illegal, he has never been formally charged.) The investigation would have vindicated Nas — if he had exhibited the courage to stand up for his convictions.

So is Nas’ latest album an honest intellectual endeavor, or a provocative gambit to make money and enhance his stature? It’s probably a little bit of both. With little success as a a singles artist, Nas survives as a major artist by marketing himself as a poet who speaks truth to power. For the most part, it’s paid huge artistic dividends, even when the man himself seems more craven than he wants to admit.

Guests on Nas’ ninth solo album include the Last Poets, the Game, Chris Brown and Busta Rhymes; producers include Cool & Dre, Toomp, Jay Electronica and Salaam Remi. The 17-track disc doesn’t include early mixtape cuts such as “Be a Nigger Too,” but it does have a lead single in “Hero” (with Keri Hilson on the hook). After its July 15 release, Nas will join the Rock the Bells tour.

  • 1. “Queens Get the Money”
  • 2. “Can’t Stop Us Now” (feat. Eban Thomas from the Stylistics & the Last Poets)
  • 3. “Breathe”
  • 4. “Make the World Go Round” (feat. Chris Brown & the Game)
  • 5. “Hero” (feat. Keri Wilson)
  • 6. “America”
  • 7. “Sly Fox”
  • 8. “Testify”
  • 9. “N.I.G.G.E.R. (The Slave and the Master)”
  • 10. “Who Are You?”
  • 11. “Untitled”
  • 12. “Fried Chicken” (feat. Busta Rhymes)
  • 13. “Project Roach” (feat. the Last Poets)
  • 14. “Y’all My Niggas”
  • 15. “We’re Not Alone” (feat. Mykiel)
  • 16. “Black President”
  • 17. “Like Me” (bonus track)
  • 18. “Proclamation” (iTunes bonus track)
  • 7/19: First Midwest Bank Amphitheater, Tinsley Park, IL
  • 7/20: Arrow Hall, Toronto, ON
  • 7/26: Tweeter Center, Boston, MA
  • 7/27: Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
  • 7/31: Center Stage, Atlanta, GA
  • 8/02: Bicentennial Park, Miami, FL
  • 8/03: Jones Beach Theater, New York, NY
  • 8/08: House of Blues, Las Vegas, NV
  • 8/09: Glen Hall Pavilion, Devore, CA
  • 8/16: Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA
  • 8/23: Fiddler’s Green Amphitheater, Englewood, CO
  • 9/06: Gorge Amphitheater, Quincy, WA

7/19-7/27, 8/02-8/03, 8/09-9/06: Rock the Bells
7/31: w/Talib Kweli, Jay Electronica

www.nasindependenceday.com
www.myspace.com/nas

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