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As summer officially winds down and seasonal recaps start to finalize, I feel the need to express gratitude to Nas—who also celebrates his birthday today (September 14)—for making “Not For Radio” the opener of NASIR.
It’s the regal attitude of “Not For Radio” that makes it stand out as one of summer’s best. Nas ignites his latest era saying “Escobar Season begins,” a return to his It Was Written form, in the opening second of silence. Following that line are a chorus of heavenly angels singing from the sky, leading to Puff Daddy’s resurgence for a rant.
The linkage of Nas, Kanye West, and Puffy is a holy trinity I never thought I’d witness in the context of “Not For Radio,” but it all makes sense upon broader examination. We have Kanye, who used his G.O.O.D. Music releases as quests for spiritual guidance, already understanding sharing the limelight with Nas since 2005’s “We Major.” There’s a mutual recognition for the God complex all three men have repeatedly shown in their discography—not of the kind that’s meant to press religion, but rather celebrate our identies and worth as human beings.
“Not For Radio” is the new-age equivalent of Nas and Puffy’s Trackmaster collab “Hate Me Now.” Also defiant in its attitude, the Escobar chartacter of Nas appears at the beginning of that track, but that time around it was Puffy doing the introduction over samples from Carmina Burana. Inspired by the knockout vibes of The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Victory,” “Hate Me Now” discussed persevering despite unjust envy from others.
As a five-year-old at the time of “Hate Me Now’s” release, I remember the Hype Williams-directed music video being one of the first that I comprehended immediately. I may not have understood Nas’ verses, but I knew he was Jesus being crucified in the visual, and that Puffy was angry about something while always popping bottles in style.
But 19 years later, the context of “Not For Radio,” an extenuation of “Hate Me Now,” is much clearer. People criticized how NASIR lacked storytelling, but I’m on the contrary. In fact, I would argue that comparing the lyrics side-by-side, there’s actually growth. Instead of showing the “black Kemet gods, black Egyptian gods” in visuals or the album pharaoh-inspired cover of I Am, Nas opens his first verse on that note.
Instead of just gloating about his riches as he does in “Hate Me Now”—which have since advanced in the luxury life in the form of “Senegal’s finest, minerals, diamonds” and the kind of knowledge that can be bestowed upon a man now in his 40s—there’s a direct conversation going on; Nas has entered the professor mode he’s drafted since “If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)” and “Rule.”
With the line “the industry never bought me,” Nas makes a point to highlight the song’s meaning (which is defined in the title). But it’s not only Track 1 that’s “Not For Radio,” it’s the entire album. The opener and unapologetic album cover of NASIR allowed for a raw listen to a gritty interpretation reflecting the current state of affairs. “Not For Radio” also answered why they hate so much; it’s as 070 Shake suggests in the chorus, “I think they’re scared of us.”
It’s no surprise that a song as real as “Not For Radio,” which comes to us in Professor Griff-like doses with content, would not gain the traction it rightfully deserved. It might also have to do with a few factors: as “Simple Things” notes, Nas is “not Top 40” or the immediate go-to for commercial bangers; the public’s weary perception of Kanye; the ongoing weighing of opinions concerning Nas’ marriage to Kelis; the uncensored black pride lyricism being daunting to those not with the program; and, the fact that Beyoncé was now competing against Nas for their release week-end’s best rap album.
Still, there’s a sense of invincibility that comes with “Not For Radio.” It’s triumphant, one of the more powerful statements ignored. It’s a movement we should all be on at this moment.
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