It is difficult to know quite what to make of an album entitled The Lost Albums,Vol.3–Â it hardly reads like an official release. We still havenâ€™t seen the second piece in the series, and the last we heard, in May, Nas wasnâ€™t going to release another Lost Tapes album (a collection of discarded studio tracks) in the near future. Now we have a package that superficially looks like a mixtape, but with content that is coherently organized and professionally produced. Itâ€™s clear that Nas has had creative control over the piece as it stands rounded with a Intro and Outro. If it sounds and acts like another Lost Tapes, itâ€™s entirely logical to treat it as such.
Heritage out of the way, one can make two decisive observations. First, this is an excellent album. Second, it never reaches the level of The Lost Tapes, Vol. 1. We expect excellence from Nas. Like LeBron James on an average day, heâ€™s still brimming with talent. But Nas isnâ€™t having an off-day here (or to be accurate a smattering of off-days, over several years). After all, negative comparisons with The Lost Tapes donâ€™t serve as the mark of a bad album. Many critics see The Lost Tapes as Nasâ€™s finest work, after his debut masterpiece, Illmatic.
The production on The Lost Tapes, Vol. 3 is generally expert, at times covering up occasional lapses in Nasâ€™s sky-high standards. “Snitch Alibi” is a little repetitive, uncharacteristically reliant on a strung-out hook. Neither its message nor its wordplay is inventive, but a marvellously energetic beat does much to conceal these negatives. There is more than enough to praise elsewhere. “Death Anniversary” matches eery instrumentals with insidiously haunting lyrics as Nas toys with a succession of incrementally less credible conspiracies: from beefing with AZ in order to confect publicity, to suggesting that Nas is really the persona of his murdered childhood friend, Ill Will. There is diversity of tone in the chest-thumping defiance of “Victory” (where John Legend is in fine voice on the chorus), and the nostalgia-heavy “Time,” in which AZ shines brighter than his celebrated collaborator.
The release of this album was not so much botched as massacred; but the music speaks for itself. Itâ€™s a minor tragedy that it wonâ€™t gain the exposure it deserves. Nas is better here, on unreleased material, than most rappers are at the peak of their careers.