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Released: 5th April 1999.

Nas's first album, "Illmatic," was almost universally recognized as a hip hop classic. Despite its thick content, commercially its sales were disappointing. In response, he switched to Escobar, got down with the Wackmasters and released the horrific "It Was Written." Despite having only about 3 good songs on the whole album, the album sold like hotcakes, but in the process, Nas alienated many of his underground fans.

Now, with the advent of his third opus, "I Am," Nas faces the daunting task of maintaining his commercial success while trying to regain his credibility with the underground community. For the most part, he succeeds, although he stumbles with such wackness as "Hate Me Now," where Puff Daddy shows up to disgrace Nas' gifted lyricism with his presence. Honestly, I could probably live with this track if not for Puffy. His hook is repetitive, stupid, annoying and several other descriptions I will spare you.

Primo opens up the album with "N.Y. State of Mind II," a brilliant reworking of the original with more of the storytelling talent Nas has demonstrated since his first appearance. He also blesses the album's first single, "Nas Is Like." The other true standout track on this album is "We Will Survive," with its Kenny Loggins sample. This ode to Biggie and Tupac contains heartfelt lyrics and comes over, despite slightly repetitive and lazy production. However the most perfect track on this record has to be "Undying Love." It's a descriptive track where Nas' "wife" cheats on him and he accidentally ends up killing her, and himself (fictional of course). It's tight and the beat is sick!

Most of the other tracks are solid, but still lack much of the brilliance we expect from an MC as gifted as Nas. The exceptions are Primo's two tracks (of course), and Timbaland's offering, "You Won't See Me Tonight," although it could have done without the cameo from Aaliyah.

The final verdict: A solid addition to the collection, light years better than "It Was Written," although that doesn't say much. If you're budgeting, (and who isn't) feel free to pass on this one; you're not missing that much.

* * (Lynx)

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