February 04, 2002 12:00 PM

Nas (Columbia)

If you thought Nas would just turn the other cheek after Jay-Z dissed him on the recent Jay-Z album track “Takeover,” think again. On this CD’s venomous cut “Ether,” Nas fires back, even ridiculing his rival’s penchant for Hawaiian shirts. Still, when it comes to the relevance of these two East Coast MCs, Jay-Z is the clear winner. Nas’s lyrics and music simply don’t pack the punch they once had. Although his delivery remains strong, Nas’s rhymes lack fresh, potent hooks, and he’s too often defensive. Nas must have hoped for an artistic comeback by calling this disc Stillmatic, referring to his memorable 1994 debut, Illmatic. But despite some flashes of his old urban awareness, he hasn’t evolved enough to keep up with the current leaders of the rap pack.

Bottom Line: At a creative standstill

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