The Firm's The Album (1997)
The Classic: "Phone Tap"
The Firm was deeply entrenched in several of the predominant rap tropes of the 1990s: the East Coast-West Coast conflict; the shift from the street lifestyle to the CEO lifestyle; the idea that albums should be assembled around a clique of famous emcees, the way a movie is cast with stars. Musically, The Firm's album is defined by the interplay between Nas’ densely verbal style and the stealthy, skeletal beats of Dr. Dre. That tension finds its peak on “Phone Tap.” The song was part of a new push to bring cinematic crime drama to rap music. By blending two very different bicoastal signatures, the song also did its part to heal a rift that had flared into warfare.
The Stinker: "Hardcore"
The Nas/Foxy Brown duet “Hardcore” felt like a misguided attempt to emulate the male-female chemistry that Biggie had generated with Lil Kim, or that Foxy herself found with Jay-Z. Unfortunately, that formula could not counterbalance the song’s canned production or lackluster lyrics. After starting a song by saying “Will they ever let Gotti out?” Nas goes on to drop a barrage of cringe-inducing couplets like: “Never love a ho, get my dick sucked/Smoke the chocolate.”
The Buried Treasure: "Firm Fiasco"
At its best, the Firm album used Dre’s minimalism to emphasize the intricacies of the New York Mafioso rap style. Only a few years prior, producers like Pete Rock and Premier made it almost compulsory for an artist of Nas’ talent to rap over dark jazz samples. Then came the throbbing automated beat of “Firm Fiasco,” and we got to hear rappers take turns dancing across the stainless steel surface of Dre's instrumental. This is one of the songs that ushered in a new era of luxury in hip-hop—both sonically and thematically.