I have been a Knicks fan since I was 11 or 12 years old. Even with the misery of sitting through a season of inept play and intentional tanking, there remains a place in my heart for a team that played with grit and determination and, if it not for a certain number 23, might have won a ring or two. My fandom, however deep, remains realistic. Patrick Ewing wasn't the greatest player ever. John Starks, though one of my favorite players ever, was an erratic shooter who lost us as many games as he won. Nas fans, by and large, are very similar to Knick fans. They rally around a past champion who put a city on his back at a time when she was an underdog fighting to reclaim prominence. Unlike Knick fans however, Nas fans find themselves largely unable to move on from a championship season that produced one of the greatest albums in hip-hop history and accept one painful yet very real fact. Nas peaked too soon.
Ambrosia For Heads, apparently on a mission to get rap fans to kick each other's teeth in, has been running their Finding the Goat tournament pitting hip-hop heavyweights against each other with the sites readers choosing a winner round by round. Their latest match up pits Nas against Black Thought, an MC, who in addition to being the lead lyricist for arguably the greatest band of a generation, is notorious for song features that regularly far outshine even the most lyrical of MC's brave enough to request a verse from him. This still doesn't take into account an incredible freestyle ability that resulted in arguably one of the most loved Roots songs of all time, "75 bars".
The sports world has made a cottage industry out of these debates. They fuel sports talk shows across the country on a daily basis. Magic or Kareem? Manning or Brady? Hip-hop, with its competitive roots is no different. Whether it's MCs battling or simply fans comparing careers there has to be a winner and a loser. Hip-hop has rarely been about art for art's sake. Instead it has for its nearly 40-year history been a high stakes game of king of the mountain. Rap is an aspirational art form in which if you aren't moving forward you are drowning. It is why today's rap music to a large degree is deeper and more complex than it was in its infancy.
It is this fact that often gets (selectively) ignored by Nas fans. Of all the ways a music artist can be judged, sales, awards, tours etc., artist growth and progression may be one of the most significant yet undervalued factors in determining the greatness of an MC. The Jay Z of today isn't the artist who valued a machine gun flow over lyrical substance. Kendrick Lamar on To Pimp a Butterfly is clearly a superior artist from what he was just five years ago on Overly Dedicated. The growth of Black Thought over the last 20-plus years is evidenced in a lyrical ability and voice that shed the innocence of a young Tariq Trotter. While there is no question that Illmatic was a ground breaking album by and large, save for a couple hot tracks per album, Nas never really progressed as an artist beyond his opening effort. Even with this in mind, Nas' catalog would be an acceptable one if it weren't for the ever present pressure to hand Nas an elevated status that is difficult to justify.
How Nas Fans Piss Off Hip-Hop Heads
Case in point during a Facebook conversation about Nas versus Black Thought with Phenom Blak, host of the Where's My 40 Acres podcast, when this happened.
This statement in and of itself is why Nas fans, and by extension Nas, face the scorn of many hip-hop fans. Nas fans are notorious for claiming absolutes and basing those absolutes on points that for other fans don't hold water. The ability to memorize a verse has never made a dope MC. I know a ton of Jay Z and Kanye verses. I can also recite "Rappers Delight" near verbatim. Is Wonder Mike in your top five?
When in doubt just double down.
This is the classic "claim that the one verse that guy did that time that was pretty good totally destroyed your favorite rapper for all time" argument. Black Thought over the course of 20 years has appeared on over roughly 200 songs with The Roots along with nearly 60 features and innumerable freestyles. The large majority of this work being critically acclaimed. But what does that matter?
This is troll move #4080. If your argument is being proved invalid make a passive aggressive attempt to throw shade. Just... Stop.
Lastly, as the reality of having your argument proven false at every turn, set flames to the entire thread. Nas has infinity "calssics" *plugs fingers in ears*.
For what it's worth, and as unpopular as it is to say in certain spaces, I am a fan of Nas' work. Especially his earlier releases. What I can't do is pretend that his complete body of work doesn't have significant gaps in quality. What Nas does provide his fans is an incredible sense of nostalgia. For fans my age (37) Nas, Biggie, Jay-Z and Wu-Tang Big Pun and Redman were the defining sound of our adolescence and the center of what would be the golden age of hip-hop. That sound was the definition of being a young black teenager in New York and songs like "Life's a Bitch" and "Memory Lane" touched on what at times felt like a future that bleak for us all; but as much as those songs are a part of me that is no longer the life I know. As much as early Jay-Z represented much of the same aesthetic, his music grew up in a way that Nas' simply didn't.
When fans push the "Invincible Nas" doctrine, rarely is it done with any nuance or consideration of the possibility of at least being overstated. As a result the response from other rap fans is near reflexive in anticipation for what routinely feels like active trolling. Fortunately when in doubt one can always go to the video tape.