Run That Back: Nas – Stillmatic

As I end the Countdown to Politics As Usual series, I start a new one: Run That Back, a look back on old albums – today it’s Nas’ Stillmatic, his resistance to Jay-Z’s domination of NYC in the wake of Biggie’s passing.

It’s most famous for the diss track “Ether,” a response to Jay’s “Takeover,” and for getting 5 mics in the embarrassingly opportunistic Source magazine, who thought it would be good publicity to give both Nas and Jay’s new albums 5 mics.

If Source hadn’t fronted for some sales, this would probably have been recognized as another in a line of mediocre – occasionally awful – albums from Nas.

Let’s get started.


Very hard to listen to, with the combination of Nas’ faux-meaningful rhymes (later thrown into the spotlight on messes like Street’s Disciple and Untitled) and the cheap-sounding beat, which is straight unbearable.


Reputably the mother of all disses, the track that buried Jay-Z and swept Nas back up on the throne he held for the span of one album (more than most can say, at least).

To be entirely honest, it’s not that great.

Maybe it’s just because this song is hyped up as pretty much the greatest diss song ever made (what, y’all forgot “South Bronx” and “Hit ‘Em Up”?), but it doesn’t match expectations.

Just peep an excerpt the verse that provoked Ether (please forgive the spelling and grammar and whatnot; I just copied and pasted it):

Youse the fag model for Karl Kani/Esco ads
Went from, Nasty Nas to Esco’s trash
Had a spark when you started but now you’re just garbage
Fell from top ten to not mentioned at all
to your bodyguard’s “Oochie Wally” verse better than yours
Matter fact you had the worst flow on the whole fuckin song
but I know – the sun don’t shine, then son don’t shine
That’s why your – LAAAAAAAME! – career come to a end
There’s only so long fake thugs can pretend
Nigga; you ain’t live it you witnessed it from your folks pad
You scribbled in your notepad and created your life
I showed you your first tec on tour with Large Professor
(Me, that’s who!) Then I heard your album bout your tec on the dresser
So yeah I sampled your voice, you was usin it wrong
You made it a hot line, I made it a hot song
And you ain’t get a coin nigga you was gettin fucked and
I know who I paid God, Serchlite Publishing
Use your – BRAAAAAAAIN! You said you been in this ten
I’ve been in it five – smarten up Nas
Four albums in ten years nigga? I can divide
That’s one every let’s say two, two of them shits was due
One was – NAHHH, the other was “Illmatic”
That’s a one hot album every ten year average
And that’s so – LAAAAAAAME! Nigga switch up your flow
Your shit is garbage, but you try and kick knowledge?
(Get the fuck outta here) You niggaz gon’ learn to respect the king
Don’t be the next contestant on that Summer Jam screen
Because you know who (who) did you know what (what)
with you know who (yeah) but just keep that between me and you for now

If you’ve follow Nas’ career at all, the verse rings very true – it’s a sharper and more cutting criticism than any music critic (known to today’s heads as a “hater”) could ever deliver, because of its masterful composition. Isn’t Jay saying what you’d been thinking about Nas? His albums sucked after Illmatic, he got upstaged by his motherfucking bodyguard on a song, he sold out, and he’s a fake gangster…

All true.

Then, to add insult to injury, Jay flips his potential weaksoit – one of his own biggest hits sampling Nas’ voice – and straight ruins Nas with it.

Then, on the flipside, look at what Nas comes with:

I’ve been fucked over, left for dead, dissed and forgotten
Luck ran out, they hoped that I’d be gone, stiff and rotten
Y’all just piss on me, shit on me, spit on my grave (uh)
Talk about me, laugh behind my back but in my face
Y’all some “well wishers,” friendly acting, envy hiding snakes
With your hands out for my money, man, how much can I take?
When these streets keep calling, heard it when I was sleep
That this Gay-Z and Cockafella Records wanted beef
Started cocking up my weapon, slowly loading up this ammo
To explode it on a camel, and his soldiers, I can handle
This for dolo and it’s manuscript, just sound stupid
When KRS already made an album called Blueprint
First, Biggie’s ya man, then you got the nerve to say that you better than Big
Dick sucking lips, why not you let the late, great veteran live

Gay-Z? Cockafella Records? What is this, junior high? Nas does squeeze in a few on-point disses, like how BDP did Blueprint before Jay or how much Jay loves to “pay tribute” to Biggie’s lines.

But beyond that, what is there? Nas talking about himself and about greedy friends.


Jay dissected and discredited Nas’ life work, Nas came back with a few hot lines nestled in a stream of irrelevant, distinctly un-clever flows, like a midget wrapped in a 5XL sweater.


Aside from the feedback/distortion (shouldn’t that have been fixed in mastering?), this is a reasonable hot track, flipping the Sopranos theme song into an upbeat street anthem. Nas falters lyrically on occasion, but, beyond that, it’s a good song, hard enough for the streets and uptempo enough for the radio. The album’s first true triumph.


A strange weed anthem that is so similar to the far superior You’re Da Man that one wonders why it’s even on this album. The only thing about this song slightly provocative or interesting is the underworld pledge, which is still not that great.


A hypnotic banger which is oddly sad and woeful and chest-thumping tough talk at the same time. A bitter-sweet heater, and one of the album’s best moments.


The album’s creative highlight, with Nas telling a story backwards as if he were Jerry Seinfeld (see “The Betrayal” episode of Seinfeld). Nas tells it in an entertaining, matter-of-fact style, beginning with a drive-by murder, progressing through a sexual encounter (“She spit my nut back in my dick”), and finally ending in a message on his answering machine where a homie plots the murder.

The best part is when Nas describes a blunt being unrolled and transforming back into a cigar.


Wouldn’t it have been a better Jay-Z diss to just do a One Mic Remix altering the chorus to “You got 5 in the Source, but all you deserve is one mic, one mic.”

Tell me that wouldn’t be the shit.

But I digress. This song is an anthem, so it’s hard to accurately gauge its quality through the yelling and orchestral production, but I’d say it’s a pretty great song, although it’s a bit difficult to judge a track so stylistically appealing on such a base level.


The DJ Premier joint that steals the show and is easily (easily) the best thing Nas has done post-Illmatic.


And so the end begins – another disappointing diss, except this is a bit weaker than Ether. It’s not that it’s awful so much that it’s instantly forgettable and lyrically all over the place.


A shot at the radio that was originally my favorite from this album (when I first heard it), but which I’ve since deemed a lyrically sloppy clash of the titans (metaphorically only, not in terms of how provocative or epic it is, since it’s not much on those terms) where Nas and AZ reunite to make you long for Life’s A Bitch.


The song this remakes (“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears) is far superior to this version – the best I can give this song is that it didn’t really fuck up the chorus, besides surrounding it with mediocre verses.


The first song that’s just plain awful on here.


Not as awful as I remember – I feel how Nas intones poison at the end of most of the lines. In fact, it’s pretty good.


An easily dismissed bonus track with essentially nothing going for it.


I stand by my 3.5 mics rating. Nas lyrically sleepwalks through most of this album and the second half (after 2nd Childhood) is pretty hard to get through, being boring and tedious (always one or the other, sometimes both at once).


1 Response to “Run That Back: Nas – Stillmatic”

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