Nas, Cam'ron, Trembling Blue Stars
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Trembling Blue Stars

[The Mail On Sunday, 2004]


IN a crowd of braggarts flogging macho drivel to impressionable kiddiewinks, Nasir Jones stands out. Not by virtue of his modesty - his last album was titled God's Son, and the new one poses him at the centre of a Last Supper pastiche. But Nas has both talent and substance. His classic 1994 debut, Illmatic, proved a pivotal link between Old Skool hip hop and the commercial phenomenon that is modern rap. Long overshadowed by Illmatic, Nas has lately restored to his work its original force.
 Nas may think a great deal of himself, but he justifies it by thinking a great deal about everything else. On the first of its two discs, Street's Disciple comes close to Public Enemy's ideal of rap as “the black CNN”. Nas's bulletins seethe and churn with righteous anger. A shame that disc two tumbles over a cliff-edge a third of the way in, its fall broken only by the ominous, Iron Butterfly-sampling single, Thief's Theme. As evidenced by his long-running feud with the Roc-A-Fella label's roster, Nas doesn't know when to stop. If he did, he wouldn't have come this far.


SPEAK of the devil. . . Cam'ron is everything Nas professes to despise: a strutting, flashy cock-of-the-walk with no apparent interests outside money, sex, possessions and one-upmanship. Typically, the production on his latest tribute to these themes is never less than slick, and often very catchy. That's not enough to counter Cam'ron's hectoring, monomaniacal bluster, which swiftly becomes irksome, and eventually exhausting. Listening to Purple Haze is like going twelve rounds with a midget boxer who does nothing but kick you in the shins.


THOSE who yearn for old-fashioned indie music - created by souls too sensitive to live, too pale to die and have anyone notice - will find a tonic here. Founded by Sarah Records emeritus Bobby Wratten for the suitably heartsick purpose of documenting a break-up, TBS have evolved into one of those rare indie acts who sound wistful and contemplative rather than drippy and feeble. Credit is due to both Wratten's songwriting, and the skill of Saint Etienne's unsung studio virtuoso, Ian Catt. It's as if punk rock never happened again and again.

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