Socialist Worker

Nas Untitled: Racism and Obama inspire politically charged hip-hop

by Dominic Kavakeb
Issue No. 2115

The album cover shows Nas

The album cover shows Nas's back scarred by whipping

“Although it seems heaven sent, we ain’t ready to have a black President… some things will never change”, argued the rapper Tupac Shakur in 1996. Twelve years on it would seem things have changed as White House braces itself for a black occupant. This change has not been lost on Nasir “Nas” Jones, one of rap music’s favorite sons.

In recent years mainstream hip-hop, despite its political birth has largely concentrated its gaze on material objects and money.

Politics has been sidelined by all but a few, but the atmosphere around presidential hopeful Barack Obama has thrust the topic of race in the US back into the limelight.

Nas is one of few mainstream artists to discuss racism in his music. This is exemplified on his excellent new Untitled album.

The album artwork portrays the New York rapper with the scars of a slave master’s whip on his back. This stark contrast with most other hip-hop covers immediately sets Nas and this new work apart. The original title for the album was Nigger. After complaints from Congress and the threat of a funding withdrawal Nas opted to give the album no title.

The album itself is the most politically charged release from Nas and musically his best for some time. Along with “Hero” the stand out tracks are “N.I.*.*.*.R (The Slave and The Master)”, and “Black President”.

On the latter Nas expresses his hope that Obama does become US president, but asks the question “when he wins, will he care still?” This question sums up the mood of millions of black Americans.

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Article information

Tue 19 Aug 2008, 18:36 BST
Issue No. 2115
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