The Lost Tapes II

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Nas planned to release The Lost Tapes II in 2003, a year following the first volume of circulated outtakes and leaked tracks dating back to the latter part of the previous decade. Columbia, Nas' label at the time, wasn't accommodating. The project seemed even less likely as the rapper forged ahead with two discs of new material, Street's Disciple, and moved to Def Jam. Issued in 2019, The Lost Tapes II functions instead as an excavation of the Def Jam era, which has yielded the number one albums Hip Hop Is Dead, Nas, and Life Is Good, and the Top Ten entry Nasir. That's a period of 13 years, so this sequel is expectedly far more scattered than the comparatively narrow-scoped first volume. Production-wise alone, it's a freeze-dried buffet, with only three of the mostly prominent, dozen-plus beatmakers credited on two tracks. A few of the cuts push the MC into deep and inspired concentration. RZA characteristically mutates a reggae version of a Stax-related composition to eerie effect on "Highly Favored," fostering Nas' imaginative likening of himself to a legendary pianist who can "still hit the right keys" in a sandstorm while injured and without vision. A wriggling feel-good backdrop from DJ Dahi and DJ Khalil ideally supports "War Against Love," where Nas is in top resist-and-uplift mode. The Kanye West-produced "You Mean the World to Me," originating from the Hip Hop Is Dead sessions, is a kind of cautionary relationship narrative with a hypnotic Leroy Hutson loop, and eclipses most of the West-produced Nasir. Nas elsewhere offers some lyrical lapses, none lower than the verse in which when he proclaims "I respect you -- my love's limitless" just after an aggressive demand for post-climax silence and physical distance. There are some fascinating diversions. Boldest and busiest of all is "Jarreau of Rap (Skatt Attack)," Nas' valiant attempt at matching the vocal calisthenics of the featured (sampled) Al Jarreau. A secondary release in execution and intent, this is recommendable only to serious fans with a justifiably insatiable curiosity for what the artist creates.

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