It's frustrating that an 18-year-old record overshadows Nas's very much alive, still-in-demand career. Never mind that Illmatic is impossible to replicate - a perfect storm of prodigious youth, instinctual talent and sublime production - or that Nas can still effortlessly rap circles around most of his peers and underlings. Never mind that a number of his subsequent albums have been cohesive and defiant, with requisite (but tolerable) concessions for radio. (I don't care what people say - You Owe Me was a hot song.)
Nas's 10th might be the reprieve the rapper deserves. It's a solid album anchored by The Don, his best single since 2003's Made You Look and so raucous it belongs in raves and on runways. Boom bap classicists Salaam Remi and No I.D. weave a raw, funky, orchestral lattice customized for Nas's age-appropriate raps about custody battles and fatherhood. Cherry Wine, featuring Amy Winehouse, feels special, given that the late singer was mad for him. Rick Ross is the perfect ride-along on Accident Murderers, one of Nas's trademark true crime narratives. But to everyone's chagrin, Swizz Beatz continues to trade beats for guest verses.
Top track: A Queens Story