nasalbumcover1.jpgBY JOE WARMINSKY Nas dutifully hyped his ninth album during the height of summer, because that’s what you do when Lil’ Wayne is everywhere: You make sure the season’s hot-shit rapper has a little competition. But the untitled disc is really a back-to-school piece. This is Nas as essayist — and although the rhetoric is thoroughly familiar, his grip on it is firmer than ever. Even when he’s rapping about aliens, it’s tough to simply laugh it off as a conspiratorial rant: “I’m-a tell you what I seen with my three eyes/Word to me, not a hoax, back in 9-9/A spacecraft in the skyline/In L.A., in daytime,” he says during “We’re Not Alone” — but the song’s broader emphasis is on free thought, not spooky stuff.

Elsewhere, Nas seems freshly comfortable with the act of balancing multiple personas, perhaps because only three of them are prominent, and they feed off each other, anyway: the agitated Queensbridge kid, the autodidactic pseudo-intellectual, and the political shitstormer. (Largely absent: the sex fiend; the hip-hop grump; the high priest; the conspicuous consumer; the dutiful husband.) When the thug and the nerd combine, the lyrics are sharpest: “The lord is a G, he gotta be/Who’s the God of suckers and snitches?/The economy” (from “America”). But the nerd, on his own, can be equally funny: “You aint as hot as I is/All of these fake prophets are not messiahs/You don’t know how high the sky is/The square milage of Earth, or what pi is” (from “Queens Get The Money”).

The exploits of the shitstormer, meanwhile, often can be tidily summarized: “Sly Fox”? Fuck Fox News. “Testify”? Prove your worth, white fans. “Black President”? Obama gets a free pass for now. “N.I.G.G.E.R.”? “Y’all My Niggas”? I was going to call the album Nigger, but they wouldn’t let me. (A sub-personality of the shitstormer — the extended metaphorist — turns “Fried Chicken” into women and “Project Roach” into people.) Somehow, though, none of it feels like bluster for bluster’s sake — and Nas is certainly capable of that. MORE

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