It’s another Friday and I’ve been slowly wrapping myself around one idea here: Nothing Is Quick In The Desert. It’s not just a clever quip but the title of Public Enemy’s album that dropped at the end of June. As soon as the first track drops forced words are uttered from your lips like, “What in bloody hell is this?” Well, my lips anyway. Listening to the album for the past week and a half reassures me that the sufferings on modern radio is nothing more than a passing phase in life. Every decade of bad music is balanced out with great. This album though is also filled with guest appearances from Parish Smith of EPMD, Ice-T, Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O to Mike Redman, Professor Griff and DJ Lord. But the album is some something I’ve been listening to that’s lead me in another direction. Personally this past week has been rife with missteps and hurdles but as bleak as it’s been, I found solace in a couple of things.
Uncommon Nasa, isn’t a household name, not by any means. At one point everyone knew him simply as NASA, New York City’s own producer/engineer who was involved in a number of albums, which included working with Cannibal Ox and the Def Jux label. Nasa stepped out on his own with the short-lived duo the Presence. It created an ambiance of ugly grit throughout that definitively fit Nasa’s own aesthetic. It was glorious. But I’m not here to dwell on the past because this is about the future and what we now have here.
Written At Night (Man Bites Dog) is Uncommon Nasa’s fourth solo-album, not counting any of his collaborations, and possibly his most realized work to date. What’s also surprising is this is the first time he’s ever fully produced his own full-length album. While the album contains that same grit I mentioned before, this time around it seems more elegantly presented. But that’s not the only surprise here though because Written At Night is splattered throughout with guest appearances from an assortment of characters like Mike Ladd, Open Mike Eagle, Quelle Chris, billy woods, Guilty Simpson, Oh No, Gajah, and a number of others. There’s a theme floating around the album as Nasa notes the hours of the clock, which mostly revolve around the wee hours of the evening. When everyone sleeps, he works.
The opening “Grown Apart” is a dark, lingering piece where those familiar with Uncommon Nasa know’s there’s nothing common about the way he spits, almost speaking in conversational mode here, gripping and coping with the distance between people. The same goes with “Speak Your Truth,” where he raps over a dirge that’ hypnotic. When the track ends, that’s when things…change. His beat on “Compass (feat. Guilty Simpson & Shortrock)” changes the pace and flip the script, grinding hard as all three emcees volley their words off of one another. The beat is tight, giving each rapper enough movement to get points across. The kinetic strides Nasa makes doesn’t end there though because “Extra Lives (feat. Open Mike Eagle & Barrie McLain)” keeps thing moving along. Open Mike’s verbiage juxtaposed around that of his just gels perfectly. But Uncommon Nasa is a master of grit and grime, and he comes back to it with “The Patient (feat. Oh No, Gajah & Curly Castro).” The beat hits hard and these emcees hit harder, never allowing breathing room, but fitting their words in perfectly. It’s the same with “Looking Back (feat. Skipp Coon & Black Tokyo)” which you will be forced to hit that repeat button repeatedly. But if it’s that gloom tomb vibe you’re in search of, you don’t have to look further than “Black Hole,” where the surprise here is that metaphoric master Mike Ladd. Darkness circles around this track, musically the timbre evokes feelings of dread and having Ladd alongside Nasa, with the low register of his words…keeps that feeling throughout. The words they both spit make you fear and want to hide from the rest of the world. If you’re not creeped-out by the time the track ends then you may have no soul. “Gingerbread Hag (feat. Brzowski & C-Money)” gives a bit of a reprieve, shining a little light through the cracks in the walls. A jazzed-up beat will undoubtedly have you bobbing that head. All that before you’re smothered under the weight of the title track. Here, Nasa aligns himself with Quelle Chris and another NYC staple, billy woods. You can understand why this is the title track and we’re left with this at the tail end of the album. Nasa creates ethereal dread here, balancing the best of what he has to offer musically. There’s no disappointment with the metaphors and similes all three of these rappers spit. It just leaves you in awe. I began this stating that Written At Night is possibly his most realized work to date and after another listen here, I’m pretty sure of it.