"No cameos — No bullshit" is the boast Nas makes for The Lost Tapes, a collection of previously downloaded and underground tracks recorded between I Am and Stillmatic, and his most impressive album since his phenomenal 1994 debut, Illmatic. The opening "Doorags" is one of his best tracks ever, as he coasts along to a delicate piano loop, taking command without pushing his voice too hard (or wasting further precious breath on his feud with Jay-Z). The track revisits his salad days growing up in the ’80s; he even namedrops Stacy Lattisaw and X-Clan. "My tongue is power," he proclaims to the tune of a grimy guitar loop on "No Idea’s Original." And "Everybody’s Crazy" finds the Queens wordsmith casually lobbing complex verse like "Gangsta see, gangsta do/A Langston Hughes predecessor/Gun in my dresser, slang I use."
The only guest stars on the album are the producers, who stay behind the board and away from the booth — the production credits boast big-time names like Alchemist, L.E.S of the Beatnuts, and Rockwilder. Straight-ahead beats counteract Nas’s complex bars of braggadocio and street-life storytelling, and his trademark street-crime-rhyme speak here rivals that of Ice-T, G.Rap, and the late Big L. "Blaze a 50" and "Purple" will satisfy smoked-out head bobbers. And though "Everybody’s Crazy" and "Drunk by Myself" boast some less than stellar hooks, The Lost Tapes offers some hope that Nas is ready to get back on track after a couple of subpar albums.