This album’s history is so pregnant with delays and label interference that at the end of the day, you just have to be thankful that it didn’t turn out like Lupe Fiasco’s LASERS. The fact that The Nacirema Dream was finally released is a miracle that will sadly go unnoticed by most music consumers. Just listen to the record. You can tell that some of these beats have been cryogenically frozen and shelved in a beat freezer ten years ago, expecting to awake and be fully embraced by a new generation of music. Instead they are exposed to a daunting and overwhelming musical world where there are so many paths and subgenres that they don’t even know where to settle. Yet, the outdated nature of the album is essentially what makes it worth listening to.
“Aim, Shoot” featuring Mobb Deep is one hell of a New York terror rap track, which would sound completely at home on the legendaryThe Infamous. The reverbed snare sounds as close to a gunshot as it can while still technically being a musical instrument. Low piano notes hold throughout, with high-pitched flute accents and, of course, actual gunshots, which make the beat sound like a car jacking. On “Aim, Shoot” Papoose raps hyper punchline style with lines like “The Apple (NYC) was nothing without me like Steve Jobs” and “my raps off the wall like a 2011 calendar”.
Other tracks make the wait for this album seem not so worth it. I wouldn’t put “Where I Come From” on a throwaway mixtape, let alone a long awaited and fairly hyped debut album. The beat sounds like an interlude from MTV’s Cribs and the lyrics beg the listener to ignore.
Then again, it’s tough hate on a DJ Premier track (not impossible), and Pap’s “Turn It Up” produced by Premo is definitely one of the finer works on the album. The beat has all the Premo staples, violin, that oh-so punchy snare, loud hi hats, fat bass drum, and some highly sample-able old tidbit from something we’ve never heard of. Pap raps of the variety available in New York City with lyrics like “Snakes who like to slither/ Wolves, monkeys, gorillas/ Veterans and beginners/ Righteous people and sinners/ Killers, losers, and winners” and then moves onto his own brag raps like “I’m the bad guy, just like the Joker and Riddler/ Bad as Mike in his prime, man in the mirror in ‘Thriller’.” Premo has his own sound for sure, so this track is a timeless intermission from the rest of the confused jumbling of different decades of rap.
“On Top Of My Game” is one of the more modern sounding songs, mainly because of the high pitched stuttering hi hats, and that obnoxious windup sound that comes before every bar resets. Pap takes on a slower flow and breaks out some of his more aggressive lines like “Telling him he nice, you gassing him like Adolph/ Hitler, like Nicolas Cage I take his Face Off”.
“6AM” featuring Jadakiss and Jim Jones, and “What’s My Name” featuring Remy Ma (Papoose’s currently incarcerated wife) both sound much like Jay Z circa 2003. Pap raps with the swagger and delivery of Jay on both tracks; on top of blaring horns and crashing cymbals in “6AM” and along side an exceptionally funky and handclapping “What’s My Name”.
The title track is a bit lackluster. A simple beat punctuated by little guitar chord plucks and bland strings. Spoiler alert: Nacirema is American spelled backwards. Papoose raps in the chorus “The Nacirema dream, enjoying life’s finer things/ I want my lady to live like a queen/ She want her man to live like a king/ It’s bada bing, ch-ching, bling bling.” He goes on to rap about Cristal and getting a record deal and all sorts of things that don’t represent the average American’s idea of the American Dream, but that’s sort of the point right? Land of opportunity? The song seems more thoughtful in a big picture sort of way, rather than a lyric by lyric analysis.
Hip-hop albums will often suffer from their own variety, making it seem as though there is nothing unifying the record other than it’s MC. The Nacirema Dream somehow achieves the opposite effect. The fact that the beats cover about 15 years of hip hop production growth combined with the fact the Papoose never settles into one permanent style or flow, shows just how far this album came before finally being released. However, the album still suffers from mediocrity and lack of imagination. Punchlines don’t make an album great, and neither do a few good beats, but Pap has most certainly achieved something significant by putting out the album he wanted to put out after all this time.