Conventional wisdom holds that Nas hit his artistic nadir with his third and fourth albums; I Am and Nastradamus. We could sit here all day quoting unfavorable reviews of both but let’s go with the one that cut the deepest; on Jay-Z’s “Takeover,” he assessed Nas’ entire discography to date, saying “two of them shits was doo”—meaning these albums.
The subsequent beef galvanized Nas and he shot back with “Ether” on his next album Stillmatic, which was hailed as a massive comeback and more or less cemented I Am and Nastradamus as garbage no one needed to bother with ever again.
Nas’ next album God’s Son featured the song “Last Real Nigga Alive,” on which he describes his entire career, bragging heartily about much of it. But he doesn’t dwell on this period, saying only, “In The Firm I learned I Am Nastradamus, QB’s Finest, ‘Oochie Wally’ faced more problems.”
The albums are not all that bad though. There are some terrible moments—the unsolicited sex advice of “Dr. Knockboot" comes to mind—but also many highlights, including three characteristically great collaborations with DJ Premier spread over the two albums; open letters to Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac on “We Will Survive” (rap history nostalgia may be lame but no one does it better than Nas); and the detailed storyscape “Small World.”
Sure, the beats here are too glitzy, but that’s the way a lot of commercial rap sounded in the late ‘90s.
Really, the problem with I Am and Nastradamus was there was just too much of it. I Am came out in April 1999 and Nastradamus was out in time for Thanksgiving. Nas has never been one to glut the market with product; over two decades he’s released just 10 albums.
But as the ‘90s drew to a close he got greedy and it cost him a lot of credibility. If these two albums had been trimmed down to one carefully selected track list, the results might have been very different.