Earlier this month, Nas announced a new album called The Lost Tapes II. The project is a followup to 2002’s The Lost Tapes, which was a compilation of unreleased tracks from the rapper’s I Am… and Stillmatic sessions. Due out July 19, the second installment in the apparent franchise consists of outtakes from Nas‘ four most recent albums: 2006’s Hip-Hop Is Dead, 2008’s untitled record, 2012’s Life Is Good, and 2018’s NASIR. So yes, that’s roughly 13 years of castoff from weird and variegated Nas albums to sift through.
When it was announced, the chief attraction of The Lost Tapes II was positioned as the disparate collection of revered producers who contributed to it—among them RZA, Pharrell, Swizz Beatz, No I.D., Pete Rock, Alchemist, and of course, Kanye West. And yet, the track Nas chose to be the first release from the album does not involve any of those people. Instead, he released a song called “Jarreau of Rap (Skatt Attack),” which features Nas rapping over an awkward sample of smooth jazz singer Al Jarreau scatting the lopsided 1959 Dave Brubeck piano-jazz standard “Blue Rondo A La Turk.”
The questions I have about this unnerving turn of events are manifold. For instance, what does it mean, exactly, to be the Al Jarreau of Rap? We may never know, but one thing I can say for sure is that the kneejerk characterization of “uncool” doesn’t do justice to how bizarre this song is. In it, Nas intones to match the athletic melodic runs from the late jazz singer’s song, which recall Bach as much cool jazz: “Here’s our symphony / A measure by measure, a pleasure, a harmony, melody.” Born the son of jazz musician Olu Dara, Nas seems to be full of conviction. “Melody married to harmony / One in the same,” he cries, existentially questioning everything we understand about music theory.
People act like Migos invented the rap triplet, but Nasir is putting his own demented spin on the concept here, in a song that sounds like it must have been recorded years before “Versace.” (A pointed line triumphantly referring to being “on Wikipedia” is one of many indicators here.) This is some iambic-pentameter-ass Ren Faire shit—”stumbling, stumbling, tumbling, fumbling”—that would have never occurred to Quavo, even in his wildest dreams.
“This is a dope joint,” the first YouTube comment on the song assures us. I have not yet visited the alternate timeline where a new Nas song with the subtitle “Skatt Attack” might be widely celebrated as a dope new joint (maybe it would dethrone that universe’s “Old Town Road”?) but I hope to visit it someday. Listen to this fascinating artifact from the man who recorded “Life’s a Bitch” below.