Uncommon Nasa – Written At Night (Man Bites Dog)
New York’s underground king of poetic realism tackles the sleeplessness, anxieties and dystopian glimpses of the future that the night time can bring on his new LP.
New York rapper, producer and label boss Uncommon Nasa and I have had a fairly close working relationship for the past few years now. Over the course of several project reviews and a couple of in-depth interviews, it has been riveting to discover the tireless extent to which Nasa’s modus operandi is to humanise high-brow ideas. It’s not necessarily a new ethic, but it is one which has a tendency to get lost in its own highfalutin endgame. With a rigid and hard-nosed, New York-centric mentality that runs to his absolute core however, Nasa is one of the East Coast’s most engaging prospects with regards to both elegance and gritty realism.
The theme for his latest LP, Written At Night, in his own words ‘hits on those overnight hours where creativity, along with everything else, runs loose in our brains’. Entirely produced by himself and asserting itself as a ‘who’s who?’ in its assembly of essential underground talent (staples such as Open Mike Eagle and Billy Woods appear besides the likes of Duke01, Mike Ladd and Curly Castro), it’s crafted with as much dynamism, cerebral energy and poignancy as its base molecules might suggest.
Its structure as a narrative that crawls through a paranoia-stricken metropolis from midnight to dawn is one that captures confrontation and sensitivity in soaring form throughout, and offers a less detached account of suburban late night fear than a record pitched as merely a collection of stories might do.
Sonically and lyrically, the record becomes more disillusioned with tangible confines and drifts further into discomfort as it progresses. The same fears and insecurities haunt Nasa and his cohorts right from the early stages, but the need for answers seems to become increasingly desperate before the closing title track imposes a new day and the uneasy mixture of hope and distrust that it brings.
Over the glitchy, somewhat Vangelis-referencing dystopia of ‘Speak Your Truth’, Nasa is in typically poetic fettle as he spits ‘yes men slither as the moon droops, possessed blend into the crowd as exhumed loops’, before dipping into more personable climbs on ‘Extra Lives’, stressing that he ‘should ignore the lights and all the hope they bring’. The siren-esque countenance of Barrie Mclain’s hook and Open Mike Eagle’s savagely cultural humour turn themselves in as a highlight of the record’s collaborative affront, as do the visceral appearances of UK MCs Duke01 and King Kashmere on the banging ‘Small Change’.
The seismic shift in tone follows the gorgeous, celestial piano arpeggios of ‘God’s Aim’, laid to waste consequently by ‘The Patient”s bulldozing synths and sociological despair, with Oh No and Gaja dropping timely references to Game Of Thrones and Harvey Dent before Curly Castro burns them all with a vicious swipe at Bill O’Reilly to round off (‘Blame us for Jekyll, we fired him from his fuckin’ show’). Most terrifying of all is ‘Blackhole’, with Nasa approaching existence as ‘genesis with an emphasis on the end of days’ over grinding, shattering wobs before Mike Ladd assures us that ‘the world ain’t over… but the West sure is’.
Written At Night continues Uncommon Nasa’s tradition of supplying a touchable thread throughout his entire catalogue, but always maintaining the art and interest in expressing new ideas in new musical dimensions. Just as they did on previous full-lengths like Halfway and Land Of The Way It Is, his convictions come from a place set in concrete by personal experience but not restrictive or alienating in their presentation. It’s in this way that Nasa makes private insecurity seem universal, and since almost everybody will have experienced the anxiety sleeplessness can bring, on Written At Night that ethic comes full circle in a wonderful, powerful way.
Key Tracks: ‘Speak Your Truth’, ‘The Patient (ft. Oh No, Gajah and Curly Castro)’, ‘Written At Night (ft. Billy Woods and Quelle Chris)’
For Fans Of: Billy Woods, Ka