The Nas Syndrome examines a phenomenon in rap whereby superior rappers choose beats of dubious quality compared to their rapping ability. Some, like the column’s namesake, speak of the challenge of writing to “difficult” or “interesting” beats. Some don’t offer listeners the solace of an explanation. All create disappointing albums and annoy me. I’ll break down the album, pick out the worthwhile tracks, state my beef with the beats, and give a prescription to cure the album of its affliction. Welcome to The Nas Syndrome, try not to catch the bug…
If you’ve been reading the blog at all in last few weeks, you’ll be aware that I’m sort of a fan of the Wu Tang Clan. If you haven’t been reading the blog, well, I’m a big Wu fan.
Now as far as Wu solo shit goes, I’ve come to expect uneven and often underwhelming efforts in the last few years. Even my favorite Wu soldier GZA has delivered disappointment (2008’s Pro Tools had some fine moments, but those were counteracted by a number of lazy songs and headscratchers). But Ghostface? He always delivered. You might not love The Pretty Toney Album and Bulletproof Wallets, but both have plenty of creative tracks (“Run,” “Holla,” “The Forest,” “Maxine,” “Walking Through Darkness”) and generally come across as well considered works. Supreme Clientele and Fishscale haveeach been called “modern classics.” I’m skeptical to ever label anything as classic, but both albums hold up as well as anything released over the past 10 years and are some of the most complete, creative albums you’ll hear in Hip-Hop period. Even More Fish had some dope tracks.
The Big Doe Rehab? Yeah, that wasn’t so great.
Now, to be fair, this is no fault of Ghost’s. On BDR, Ghostface continues to deliver the impassioned, insanely detailed raps that have become trademarks of his beloved style. He even coaxes dope performances out of a variety of guests (Beanie Sigel, Method Man, and Raekwon all deliver). The beats simply fail to live up to the heights of his previous releases. And for this, BDR gets inducted into the treatment room reserved for patients of the Nas Syndrome.
Diagnosis after the break.
Number of Afflicted: Doesn’t really apply in this instance–this is a very mild case of the syndrome. The only beat I flatly dislike on the album is “Slow Down.” The production throughout the album isn’t bad, per se, it’s simply uneventful and rather boring. The dramatic and lush beats on Supreme Clientele, Fishscale and even the recent Ghostdini Wizard of Poetry provided the perfect backdrops for Ghost’s cinematic rhymes. Those albums succeeded (and faltered) based on beats that matched and played off of the emotion of Ghostface. All of the beats on BDR are highly functional, but none dazzle the way the beats on Supreme Clientele do. Something like “Toney Sigel” brings forth an inspired Ghost performance, but does little to dig its way into your memory. “Rec Room Therapy” similarly provides a skeletal bounce for Ghost and Rae to go crazy over, but if you’ve ever heard “The Watch” you’ll just want to listen to that instead.
Number Healed by the Ghost of Young Nas: 3. “Yolanda’s House” delivers the perfect haunting soul backdrop for the millennium-updated blaxploitation tale spun by Ghostface and guests Raekwon and Method Man.
“White Linen Affair” delivers bombast fitting of its name. Ghost’s energy and grandiose vision are matched by a beat that is equally larger than life. “Shakey Dog Starring Lolita” is the sort of melancholy funk that marked the earliest Ghostface solo work. It continues to work for him and the beat bumps on its own merit.
Prescription: Scram Jones produced “White Linen Affair,” as well as “Broken Safety,” one of many bangers from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II. It would be nice to hear a few more beats from him, as he seems to understand how to filter the Wu’s soul influence into the sort of skeletal beats RZA once made so well. The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League’s rich soul sound seems custom tailored for Ghostface (see “Guest House”). If there’s money to spare after paying for those J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Pete Rock and DOOM should be next on the rolodex. Each can easily provide some of the soulful, funky, and even stripped down sounds found throughout this album (“Toney Sigel” is reminiscent of the vastly superior “Clipse of Doom” from Fishscale, a beat provided by DOOM).