Never averse to getting the pants of others in a twist, Nas said in 2006 that what developed into this self-titled album was, at the time, titled the six-letter version of the "N" word. The following year, the NAACP buried the five-letter version (along with each variant, as the obituary states) at a Detroit ceremony, replete with a horse-drawn carriage, a casket, and the presence of "hip-hop legend Curtis Blow" [sic], according to the NAACP press release. Whether it is believed that the word was truly placed six feet deep or merely swept beneath the proverbial rug, the word, regardless of its last syllable or the context in which it is placed, still carries a lot of power. Millions of Def Jam marketing dollars could not have ensured as bright a spotlight on their artist. All he had to do was mention the one word as an album title. And from that moment until the album's release, through each leaked track, mixtape, and article tracking the status of the album, more attention was paid to the MC's moves than in the recent past. An album with a proposed title of, say, East Coasta Nastra, would not have been anticipated with nearly as much scrutiny or speculation.
Nas uses the "N" word as a mere jumping-off point for his self-titled album, its initial title and final content even more closely related than the title and content of Hip Hop Is Dead. It's his most purposeful album; nearly every verse goes beyond talking trash and recalling exploits to address the change of title, the "N" word, race relations, stereotypes, the long arms and legs of Fox, love for his people and country, and the United States from slave ships through the possibility of a black president. It carries a stern lyrical focus all the way through, including the radio-aimed/Polow-produced anthem "Hero" ("If Nas can't say it, think about these talented kids with new ideas being told what they can and can't spit"), the gleaming "Make the World Go Round" (where a proud Nas, clearly reaching out to a younger crowd, refers to the featured Chris Brown as "the young Mike Jackson"), and the appropriately greasy "Fried Chicken" (a cunning track in which Nas and Busta Rhymes seem to embrace and parody dietary and sexual stereotypes at once). There is as much content here to absorb, to think about, discuss, and debate, as there is within Ice Cube's Death Certificate or anything by Public Enemy or BDP. While it is not a feast from a production standpoint -- the album is not bound to silence those who contend that Nas is not the best selector of beats -- it doesn't have the hastily slapped-together flow of Street's Disciple or Hip Hop Is Dead. A couple tracks might sonically resemble inferior versions of years-old tracks that helped make Nas a hip-hop deity and, nearly ten years after Nas was first accused of selling out, he might still sound a little awkward over radio-friendly productions. But the MC has never made an album as engrossing or as necessary as this one.