Review: Nas, HMV Picture House

“Can you remember where you were in 1994?” asks Brooklyn-born Nasir Jones before launching into the first of four consecutive tracks from debut album Illmatic.****

Given the demographic of tonight’s audience, it’s likely the only rhymes many of them were listening to back then were of the nursery variety. Not that it stops them lapping up the killer version of N.Y. State Of Mind that follows his query, nor the subsequent renditions of Represent, The World Is Yours and Life’s A Bitch either.

While some might cast doubt on the ultra-confident rapper’s self-proclaimed status as the “King” of Hip-Hop, his aristocratic pretensions certainly aren’t without foundation; an enviable commercial success combined with a critical acclaim ensures he regularly features in the upper echelons of any “Greatest MC” list.

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Backed by a band in full-on thrash mode, Nas delivers a pulsating, powerful performance, the dark and brooding nature of his back catalogue amplified and augmented well beyond how it usually comes presented on CD. Live At The BBQ, One Mic and Nas Is Like all get the treatment, soaked in energy, while thankfully Fox News-baiting Sly Fox or Bridgin’ The Gap lose none of their lyrical punch.

As you’d expect from the son of a Blues musician, he’s well-versed in his musical heritage, with a raft of influences evidenced throughout. As well as the Blues, there’s Funk, Jazz, Reggae and much more, with samples and snatches of tunes by everyone from James Brown and Muddy Waters to Phil Collins getting an airing.

Sporting a diamond-encrusted crucifix and a grey sweater emblazoned with the title of his tenth studio album, Life Is Good, the 38-year-old treats the packed Picture House to a number of tracks from that impending release too. The Don and the delightfully spiky Nasty stand out, with the Salaam Remi-produced Daughters, dedicated to his teenage offspring Destiny, providing one of the night’s more poignant moments.

After some middling efforts in recent years, he’s now comfortably back at the top of his game which, for Nas’ legion of fans, means that life is better than good – it’s brilliant.