- •Contact us
- •About us
- •Advertise with the FT
- •Terms & conditions
© The Financial Times Ltd 2013 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
October 2, 2012 5:20 pm
Consider the plight of the A-list rapper as he turns 40 – a time when much of rap’s traditional subject matter begins to slip from his handsomely bejewelled fingers. Rap about girls and he risks sounding like a dirty old man. Rap about guns and he’ll come across as an unpromoted ghetto foot soldier. What is our middle-aged rapper to do?
Nas’s answer is twofold. The New Yorker’s latest album Life Is Good looks back at his 1990s glory days while also tackling the sort of domestic troubles that his swaggering younger self would have found incomprehensible – the end of his marriage when his wife, the singer Kelis, walked out on him; the challenge of raising a teenage daughter; guilt at not being a good father.
It’s a delicate balancing act, and even Nas, rated as one of the finest emcees in rap’s history, struggled to pull it off at London’s Under the Bridge, though there was much to admire in the effort, not least the opportunity to see in close-up an expert rap technician drawing on more than 20 years of experience.
The show was the first of three that Nas is playing in intimate club venues in London. The set-up was a throwback to rap’s golden age, with the Queens rapper alone on stage with a deejay. Songs were stripped down to skeletal beats as Nas, in a T-shirt with the slogan “Tradition”, paced back and forth with a microphone.
“No Introduction”, from Life Is Good, flaunted his pedigree by name-checking his New York contemporary Biggie Smalls. “The Don” was old-fashioned East Coast boom-bap, gritty in beat and sentiment: “It’s all about surviving.” Rap artistry undercut the message, however, Nas showing there’s more to life than survival with flowing wordplay and seamless changes in tempo and emphasis: “This is my weapon of choice – the voice.”
Old songs were bunched together in medleys: tracks from his classic 1994 debut Illmatic interlaced with highlights from his later output. The hard-boiled likes of “Got Yourself a Gun” clattered into new tracks “Bye Baby”, about his marriage’s collapse, and “Daughters”, in which he frets about what his daughter’s up to on Twitter (“I just had a father moment”). The contrast in mood was a stretch. Nas is a rap traditionalist trying to push the boundaries of what rappers are allowed to talk about. It’s a contorted position, even for one as gifted as him.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.