3. Nas "Queens Get the Money" (2008)
In the scheme of things, Nas' untitled 2008 album came and went, but for all the criticism, its opening track undeniably ranks among the very best records of Nas' career. The rhyme structure follows the off-kilter, unorthodox, slanted flow of songs like "One Mic," and arguably outperforms that record. "Queens Get the Money" is so minimalist that you can really absorb the lyricism. Jay Electronica provides a bare bones piano loop for Nas to wax poetic over, and that he does, with that stroke of distinct brilliance that only Nas is capable of.
That means that even the most complex of lyrical appropriations is equipped with a significant dose of substance. For instance: "I'm Huey P in Louis V at the eulogy throwing Molotovs for Emmett." So many words are rhyming, but without the unnecessary, obvious force of clunkier multis by lesser MCs. That makes the bars here at times awe-inspiring, especially since Nas packs so much meaning into every line.
To address talks of his decline, he adopts this ridiculous approach, even nodding to the pressure his debut's cast on the rest of his work: "Talking that Nas done fell off with rhyming/He'd rather floss with diamonds/They pray, "Please God let him spit that Uzi in the army lining/That shorty doo-wop rolling oo-wop in the park reclining." WHAT. That's not normal rapping. The numbers of people who can rhyme like that is maybe in the single digits, if that.
When Nas decides to send shots at 50 Cent, rather than the brash dismissal of something like, "Nas, you a window shopper," Nas goes for the subtle slight: "Hiding behind 8 Mile and The Chronic/Gets rich but dies rhyming." Even the attacks, most notably from 50, about Nas' then-wife Kelis and her provocative single "Milkshake" are addressed here, and once again Nas comes out on top: "My queen used the milkshake to bring y'all to my slaughter houses/I do this for the group home kids in boarding houses/This is that nigga shit that's on the album." There's so much grace and wizardry here that words like "album" and "houses" get lined up and spoken with such flair that they really do rhyme and link together seamlessly.
Last year, this song was at the center of a controversy that alleged "Queens Get the Money" was ghostwritten by Jay Electronica. Nas and Jay Electronica have both denied such claims, but even if they were true, having Jay Elec on the pen only adds to the fact that this is one of the most lyrical records of contemporary times. One line goes, "Hip-hop was aborted, so Nas brings life back into the embryo," and the raps make you feel like that's all fact. —Ernest Baker
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