One Song

April 04th, 2002 | Category: Essays

Though I haven’t been keeping up with the actual lyrics, I do have a passing awareness that there’s currently lyrical beef between Nas and Jigga. This is only relevant to the following in that as much as I respect Jay-Z, he and everyone else has now fallen behind.

NasNas has one up-ed the entire Hip-hop community with his latest joint, “One Mic” Not only is the song lyrically strong and musically engaging, but Nas made a conscious choice to shift focus to the true power of Hip-hop music. As he says at the end of the song, “Fuck the cash, fuck the jewelry, fuck the cars… All I need is one mic.”

And indeed, this is all he needs to bring back every element that makes lyrical Hip-hop the powerhouse voice of culture that it has been. “One Mic” is a tour de force of anger and wordplay.

All I need is one life, one try, one breath
I’m one man, what I stand for speaks for itself
They don’t understand, or wanna see me on top, too egotistical
Talkin’ all that slick shit, the same way these bitches do
Wonder what my secrets is, niggas’ll move on you
Only if they know, what your weakness is: I have none.

The song’s stormy musical structure (produced by Nas himself) — shifting slowly from quiet calm to amplified rage during the first two verses, then switching the pace on the last — fits the emotional charge of the lyrics perfectly while simultaneously setting it apart from other songs, new and old. The current pop-level Hip-hop milieu (i.e., the shit that gets air play of any sort) is rife with party anthems, pseudo-R&B pap, materialist attitudes of rampant consumption and all the other leftovers from the reign of Biggie Smalls and Tupac, as well as the unfortunate continuing influence of Puffy Combs. Though some of these guys come off with true lyrical prowess (e.g., Jay-Z, Fat Joe, Nelly, etc.), no one comes close to the complete onslaught of tight lyrics and delivery of Nas’ “One Mic.” Given this commercial environment, it’s obvious than Nas made a conscious choice to go against the grain — with force. His track record shows him venturing far into the realm of materialism and the Big Willie steez, but this just makes his current shift that much stronger by proving it was a deliberate move. I’d put “One Mic” against anything out – ever – and I think it holds its own. It is easily among the ranks of KRS-One’s “My Philosophy,” P.E.’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos,” or “Welcome to the Terrordome,” and Common Sense’s “I will Always Love H.E.R.” And by saying that, I’m probably staking my whole rep on the song. So be it. It’s that good.

As he says, “All I need is one mic to spread my voice to the whole world.” Go ahead, Nas. The world is still yours.

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