HipHopRambling: Nas – Nastradamus (1999 – Columbia/Ill Will)

Nastradamus (1999)

Nastradamus might as well live as perhaps Nas’s most infamous work. In the late 90s, things were changing in the hip hop game. After the deaths of both 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G., a lot of  attention shifted towards the predominant New York emcees who were roughly at their peak: Jay-Z, Nas, and Mobb Deep traditionally dominated the New York scene, and Eminem had dropped his first album that same year with The Slim Shady LP, as well as Dr. Dre dropping The Chronic 2001. The late 90s marked hip hop entering a transition phase, with both Death Row and Bad Boy collapsing and eventually disappearing from the map for the most part, and the music becoming much more commercialized. The late 90s also marked the rise of the Southern hip hop scenes as well as crunk music, which would dominate the early 2000s.

1998-2000 were quite turbulent times for Nas. Rival emcee Jay-Z was dropping album after album from 1996-1999, and was easily the most commercially successful rap artist during this time. Nas was also under incredible pressure to create songs for radio play that matched the more misogynist themes of Jay-Z. In addition, Nas’s last effort I Am was not incredibly well received (albeit having a number of hits such as Hate Me Now). Nas at this time knew he had to hit a home run with Nastradamus. However, in the end, the album failed to meet expectations.

There are some Nas fans who argue that the album itself was decent, but was derided because of the infamous single You Owe Me that featured Ginuwine. However, there are reasons for why the album was not well received. I’m going to into why it was such a dud.

One of the main problems with Nastradamus is that Nas tries way too hard to be… hard. Nas has never been known to be an extreme hard-ass (although the more mafioso themes in It Was Written were more well received), but it really shows in Nastradamus. The song “Shoot ‘Em Up” is a prime example of this. He goes on about talking about murdering various people in his neighborhood, but it comes off as extremely out-of-character for Nas (it didn’t help that the same song is a prime example of the cheap production that was going on in this album). He even goes as far as to say “kill kill kill, murda murda murda” in the hook, the same words said by 2Pac on “If I Die 2Nite” on his 1995 hit album Me Against the World. Nas simply isn’t a street thug, yet he attempts so in this album. Basically, there’s just way too much thug going on in the album for it to be enjoyable.

It doesn’t help that Nas’s rapping efforts weren’t as good as they usually were, and as the album goes on, it becomes clear there wasn’t a whole lot of quality control going on. If you compare Nas’ efforts on Nastradamus and compare it to say, It Was Written or Stillmatic, you’ll notice that Nas somewhat sounds rather disengaged from this album, practically at his worst. His classic flow that you hear on the original Illmatic or It Was Written is just not there, and is replaced by a more “harder” tone to fit the more thuggish themes that go on in this album.

The production is even worse. The instrumentals sound extremely cheap and that alongside with Nas’s pretty out-of-shape flow indicate this was incredibly rushed. The only memorable instrumental that comes out of here would be the lead title song (Nastradamus). Otherwise, most of the instrumentals sound rather cheap and unmemorable. This was an album that also had Havoc, L.E.S., and DJ Premier handling the production, so there was little excuse for the instrumentals sounding so bland.

The album also lacks cohesiveness as well. There are tracks which go on about Nas’s personal opinions on the state of society (New World and Life We Chose), others which are meant to be shots at Nas’s detractors (Nastradamus, Come Get Me), as well as more misogynist and thuggish tracks that are spread around the album. The album title more or less implies that the album is more leaned towards the philosophical themes that were present in Illmatic, but it sort of comes out as one big “huh?”. There’s so much going on in the album it’s really hard to get at what it’s trying to get across. Illmatic was about the struggles of living in the Queensbridge projects from a more pedestrian perspective with deep philosophical meaning, It Was Written tackled a much more darker side of living in the projects as well as the gangsta/mafioso raps that were popular at the time. But Nastradamus seems confused.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t highlights in the album as well. “Life We Chose” and “Nastradamus” are worth a listen. “Project Windows” featuring Ron Isley is much more closer to the original themes of Illmatic, and again is worth the listen. “Come Get Me” is also a pretty nice track on the album. However, the other tracks in the album are pretty bland and unmemorable, and don’t make up for what else is wrong with the album.

Overall, I’d give this a 2 stars out of 5. The cheap and rushed production, failed marketing, out-of-character rapping, confused themes, and that infamous single really keep down the bright spots that this album had; it was really dark times for Nas around the time. Eventually Nas would re-birth himself with the release of the much better (albeit far from perfect) Stillmatic in 2001 before truly putting himself back on the map and as an important and integral part of the game with 2002’s God’s Son. However, no matter how much you can sugercoat it, Nastradamus was a pretty bad album.