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Collecting bootlegs, rarities, and "underground jewels" of the last few years into one tight collection, Nas's The Lost Tapes
is intended as a vault-clearing stop-gap between his last work Stillmatic
, and his long-awaited sixth album, God's Son
. It's also a good way of keeping the name on people's lips: as Nas's war of words with rival New York hip-hop mogul Jay-Z shifts up a gear into a truly tabloid-worthy rap feud, it's clear that the winner is not just going to be the one that drops the best rhyme--it's going to be the one that hogs the column inches.
Those eager for some razor-sharp dissing will have to wait for the next album, however, because much of The Lost Tapes finds Nas in philosophical, reflective mood. "Doo Rags" is a vibrant, romantic vision of street life in the early 80s, Nas rapping of "the drinkers still drinking, and puffing the herb" over nostalgic Stevie Wonder-style piano flourishes, while "My Way" is a proud treatise on empire-building that ignores fatuous boasting in favour of a chronological approach that picks through history in sharp detail. There are dark moments: "Blaze A 50" is a grisly crime thriller set down on disc, while "Everybody's Crazy" fidgets with paranoia. But The Lost Tapes is, most of all, a reminder of this Brooklyn street poet's continuing lyrical excellence. That's a wise move, however you look at it. --Louis Pattison