God-level MC, hip-hop mainstay and legend, Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones—aka Nas aka Nasty Nas aka Esco aka “N-A-S are the letters that spell, Nas Nas Nas”—released a new Hit-Boy produced record, “Ultra Black,” (and announced a new album, King’s Disease) for our listening pleasure on all streaming platforms. I have 7 thoughts to share. This is for the (hip-hop) lover in you.
1. Let’s start at the top, I like the song. I think I like it because it’s Nas mostly, but I like it because I love Black love jams. Is it a great song? No. But I also don’t think it was supposed to be. It’s a feel good song for folks who love hip-hop (and Nas) to run around and quote (kind of, we’ll get to that), or at the very least, to remind other folks that you’re “ultra black.” It’s not quotable in the “holy shit, you hear those bars???” way, but the play at the Black pep-rally kind of way so everybody can be like, “yassss….I’m ultra black.” Like, if this song had come out when all of the cities had started painting “Black Lives Matters” on streets, every caption would have included the words “ultra black,” or some lyrics from this song. I like Black love jams.
2. With that said, I don’t really view this as a song song. Note the italics. It feels like intro music. Or radio show theme music. Or like the theme music for a new Netflix show that doesn’t have any white people in it. It’s basically the version of Dead Mike’s “I’m Black Y’all” for niggas who think that song needed verses. I love that song. Like, Nas should reach out to Eunique Jones Gibson and have her direct the video, in the vein of her “Because of Them We Can” photo series.
3. I’m glad to hear Nas over good production. This cannot be stated enough how important, in general, it is for Nas to have good production. I’m tired of being afraid to listen to a Nas record because it really could be “Braveheart Party.” Look, I’m a hip-hop head, I’m critical like most of us are of Nas’ beat selection. But when he is on, he is on on. And he’s usually on when he has great production. Also, I’m still disappointed AF in that Kanye album. I know some of you liked that album. And it had a moment here or there, but even the most ardent Nas supporter has to admit it wasn’t what we all thought it could be.
4. This is a pretty exceedingly Nas-ass song. I don’t even know how else to say it, but it is. Like, “Daughters” is a very Nas song. It ain’t so much the bars but how he says them. You wouldn’t share this song with anybody as proof that Nas is the GOAT. And yet, you’d share this with somebody if you were trying to make the claim that Nas is the GOAT of the people. It’s a collage of lines of mentioning black shit, none of it is mind blowing. And yet, because it’s Nas, it works. Like, it has a few darts (“the opposite of Doja Cat”) but it stays in the nods to Black culture lens. And the obligatory nod to Colin Kaepenick, a black Amex, Billy Dee Williams, you know shit to mention as Black.
5. Interesting, and in the same vein of number 4, Nas is pretty good on his black bars when he locks in. This song shouts out quite a solid amount of Blackness, both pop culturally past and present. Also, I will never in my life forget the greatest Black-power bar of all time when Nas spit (on The Game’s “Why You Hate The Game”) “pro-Black, I don’t pick cotton out of aspirin bottles.” There is not a better Black bar than that. I will die on this hill. (I’d love to hear a list of best Black bars of all time; if it ain’t better than Big, it’s the closest one.)
6. Hot Takes with Panama: Jay-Z couldn’t make a song like this right now. For starters, Jay wouldn’t make any song this on-the-nose anyway. As I said, this is a very Nas song. But considering that the NFL did a complete about face on it’s player’s protesting stance (even going too far with the idea of Black National Anthem being played before Week 1 games), Jay’s deal (and “we’re past kneeling” stance) almost seems odd now. He was either a sell out and “playing chess not checkers” and shit, but it was a very weird move for Mr. All Black Everything to make no matter what side of the fence you stand on. If Jay tried to make some version of this “ultra black” song, I think he’d catch holy hell on social media. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.
7. I won’t say this song gives me hope for the album by itself, though I will obviously listen. I need to know the producer credits and even then, well, you already know. However, whenever I’m in the mood to walk down the street and point-and-smile at random Black people I see, I now have theme music. Walking down the street and doing the point-and-smile? Fam, that’s ultra Black.