Last Friday Nas released his first album in six years and, thanks in part to typically sharp Kanye production, his first relevant one since probably God’s Son. Of course, his creative renewal comes with an awkward bargain…Nasir is as proudly pro-Black as anything in the rapper’s catalog while being completely produced by the guy who decided the latest and greatest way to ruffle feathers was by wearing a MAGA hat and questioning whether institutionalized slavery was really such a big deal. At one point Kanye even shows up to drop a verse about police brutality because, you know, nothing fucking means anything anymore.
Oh yeah…the album is actually pretty good. I’m starting to realize I actually enjoy seven-song albums. They fit my schedule nicely.
The album kicks off with “Not For Radio”, a fiery, question-everything banger where Puff Daddy reprises his angry, robotic hype-man role from “Hate Me Now”. The first verse is full of classic Nas swagger, nuggets of Pan-Africanism, and several grunts of affirmation from Puff. The theme here seems to be that Nas is just to “real”…clearly the radio is never gonna fuck with this. This is a charming idea that reached its heyday in the late 90s. Maybe Diddy or Yeezy could explain to newly re-relevant Nas that literally anyone who cares about him in 2018 already finds the radio irrelevant. No matter…it’s the second verse where Nas really gets going, running off a laundry list of historical facts(ish) that only woke people know about. Let’s quickly take a look at some of these claims and analyze them for truthfulness:
“John Hanson was not the first black pres to make it”
Woke people have been spreading the rumor for a while now that George Washington was not actually the first president of the United States and that it was in fact a Black man named John Hanson. Well, Nas sees your wokeness and raises you one. He’s right! Not only was John Hanson not actually the first president of the United States – his role was President of the Continental Congress and his primary achievement was signing the wildly unsuccessful Articles of Confederation – he wasn’t Black either. It would seem the confusion stems from a nineteenth-century Liberian senator with the same name.
Verdict: 100% accurate.
“Abe Lincoln did not free the enslaved”
I suppose this one comes down to your definition of the word “free.” Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, changing the legal status of three and a half million African Americans in the South from slave to free. Unfortunately, this was more war strategy than anything else. The Confederacy was in open rebellion, did not consider themselves to be US citizens, and really could not have cared less what Washington told them to do with their slaves. Furthermore, the proclamation did not apply to the four slave states that had remained loyal to the Union, for fear of alienating vitally important border states and leaving the capital surrounded by enemies. Slavery would be abolished two years later when Congress passed the 13th Amendment, a law for which Lincoln advocated for and signed ceremonially but did not directly enact.
Verdict: Technically accurate, but Nas purposely understates Lincoln’s role to make a point.
Progress was made ’cause we forced the Proclamation
Nas is making a greater, more valuable point here: change does not come from rulers but from the ruled. Rulers enact laws when they are pressured by popular movements. Without slave uprisings and the tireless work of activists in the North and South there would have been no change made.
SWAT was created to stop the Panthers / Glocks were created for murder enhancement
The first statement is easy. The SWAT team was created in 1964, before the existence of the Black Panthers, and was envisioned as a response to things like bank robberies. That said, its creators were likely aware that the kettle was about to boil over and foresaw violence in the streets. SWAT did rise to prominence during the 1965 Watts riots so Nas isn’t that far off in attaching racial undertones.
Verdict: Nas is verifiably wrong on the first part, but his heart is in the right place. The second statement is up to you. It could probably use its own post.
Edgar Hoover was Black
This has been debated by historians for years. Some claim Hoover, the first director of the FBI, had an African-American ancestor in his family tree. Others make the less likely claim that he had a Black parent and was taken in by a white family. All of these claims seem possible, but none have been verified. We do know that Hoover’s personal views toward African-Americans were not the most, let’s say, enlightened.
Verdict: Who knows. Not entirely sure why Nas brought it up.
Willie Lynch is a myth
William Lynch was supposedly a slave owner who gave a speech to a gathering of other slave owners in 1712 regarding how slaves should be treated. Lynch was said to have believed the way to break slaves of any type of rebellion against their owners was to set them against one another. While many slave owners may have practiced these tactics, most historians agree the Willie Lynch speech to be a hoax.
Verdict: Most likely correct.
Colombians created crack / the government made stacks
The lion’s share of cocaine exported to the United States in the 1980’s was from Colombia. One man, Pablo Escobar, is believed to have been responsible for 80% of that cocaine. “Created” may be the wrong technical term, but the point stands. The United States government making massive sums of money off the drug trade is a far more complex issue that generally comes down to perspective.
Verdict: Partially true.
Reagan had Alzheimer’s
In the words of Puff Daddy….”That’s true.”
Fox News was started by a Black dude
Fox News was started by Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch, both white. There is a general theme here as it is the third time in the verse Nas mislabels someone’s race. Given the general truthiness of the rest of his facts….and my belief that Nas is not a complete idiot…I have a theory about this. Nas is attempting to make a greater point about America. John Hanson, white or Black, was not the first leader of our country; the way was led by the Black slaves whose labor built the foundation for our nation. J. Edgar Hoover is synonymous with the beginnings of the FBI, an agency historically known for stifling racial dissent. Fox News, in its current state as a Right Wing juggernaut, is fueled by its audience’s distaste for the “Black dude” who spent eight years in the White House.
Hip-hop is art. It is not required to be literal or concrete. These facts should not be seen as FACTS, but as part of a picture Nas is painting of American culture. That picture’s theme: I am Black and I am just as American as you are.