New York emcee and producer Uncommon Nasa has been making some of the most interesting hip-hop in recent years. Not only through the usually skeletal and often minimalist production that allows him space to bring his introspective thoughts to the canvas, but it’s his lyrical depth and intricate wordplay that is so incredible to me. His 2017 album Written at Night was when I came across his music for the first time, and have subsequently delved deeper into his vast and sprawling discography with absolute fascination. He is back with his 6th studio album titled Only Child, and it is equally as captivating as his previous albums. Produced entirely by Messiah Musik, the album features his usually dark, moody, yet animated sound that gives space to Uncommon Nasa is able to continue his dystopian-like vision of life around him, as he talks about his experiences living and growing up in New York, being an only child, bringing interesting observational raps to these subtle yet poignant boom-bap beats, interstingly enough with quite a lot of Southeast Asian melodies.
The dark, unsettling opener “Quark Strangeness in the Hour of Chaos” sets the tone for the album, with a rumbling bassline that dominates the groove of this track. Nasa’s stark lyricism is incredible from the get-go, as he raps “You’re a computer, you input data you are the future! / I was the future, people had hope in me, now I’m old recycled, leaving people forgetting”. It’s quite a vivid description of his state of mind, now at a more advanced age (43, I believe?), feeling like he’s not as relevant or as lively as he once was. A lot of his lyrics speak to that kind of alienation from a lot of outside shit that just doesn’t matter. “U68” speaks to that, as he says “dreams to travel far / sitting in that back seat let’s you know exactly who you are”. It’s something I instantly related to, as it brought me back to the times I went on road trips with my family, literally sat in the back seat, looking outside of the window, listening to music and daydreaming about stuff that felt so disconnected from actual reality. It was really after this point that the album as a whole clicked for me. “Only Child” is an introspective cut, a sorta celebratory cut, as he bigs up himself, his lineage and what he’s been able to accomplish for himself. One of my favourite cuts on the album is “Your Hands Will Turn to Rust”, partially for the incredibly groovy beat and Uncommon Nasa’s interesting story about love being driven by fear and a loss for loved ones, in a metaphor, in my opinion, of the importance of not dwelling on the past, with the fence representing a portal or gate into the past. We can’t change it, we can’t go back to it, all we can do is move forward. “Brooklyn Soup” features another crazy beat, with heavier drums this time, pulsating throughout the track. A lot of the album is devoid of proper drums, focusing more on the atmospheric nature of the synths and melodies throughout. The colour and uplifting tone of “Vincent Crane” is a shift in sound from the darker, moodier and unsettling sound of the album as a whole. It’s a track celebrating the life of English keyboardist Vincent Crane, someone who had an influence on Nasa as a person and artist. It’s an odd reference to have on a rap track, but that’s what I love about Uncommon Nasa’s music. He wears his influences on his sleeve, and is quite the music nerd, which is always great to see. “The Ballad of Metal Mike” is another track dedicated to someone special in his life, reflecting on the time he met Metal Mike at 17, and the subsequent influence he had on him. Tracks like “The Hallway” and “Discipline” are disorienting in sound, especially the latter track where Uncommon Nasa’s vocals sound suffocating and frightening if I’m honest. The beat on “Maze” is so dope, as he references his dad and the power of creativity in his work. The album closes out with “Trimesters”, another favourite on the album. 2 beat switches, 3 beats, this one is disorienting yet incredibly engaging, as Nasa for one final time rhymes effortlessly about having to truly embrace being alive, despite the hardships and all. There’s a lot more to it, and the album as a whole for me to digest, but I already know I’ll have a lot of fun dissecting the album properly.
As a whole, Only Child represents artistic growth for Uncommon Nasa, as he takes us on a swirling, unpredictable road down his own state of mind, talking about his love for his family, music, the people around him that champion him, reflecting on the state of the world around him in a poignant manner. His ability to be blunt yet abstract with a lot of what he says is what makes his music so engaging, and coupled with Messiah Musik’s incredibly vast and eclectic soundscape, makes this quite a great album. So go support Uncommon Nasa and Messiah Musik’s new album Only Child below!