As we revisit Nas’ ‘Project Windows’ featuring Ronald Isley, a certain type of nostalgia encroached upon our reality. Time slowed down momentarily, and then we felt the aroma of death—slowly trespassing inside of our nostrils; and then a black hearse rode past with sparkling rims and tinted windows.
Then we heard the welcoming sound of Ronald Isley’s voice, echoing softly inside our eardrums, making us numb to the impending danger, enveloping us inside a self-addressed stamped envelope– addressed to the Queens bridge Housing Projects, the largest public housing development in North America; where thousands of project windows stared vacantly at the Bridge’s inhabitants walking to and fro.
We appeared uncaptured, and then we heard the dopest lyrics bellowing out of one of those barred windows, but we couldn’t tell which one. So, we took a look around like Masta Ace, and then we identified where the main source of our inspiration was coming from—apartment 5D, where an adolescent teen was rapping with his hat twisted backyards.
“Black hoods, cops and projects/
Sewers flooded with foul blockage/
The gutter’s wild and every child watches/
Changing top locks with ripped off hinges/
Doors kicked off, drunks stag off Smirnoff/
Wipe your beard off/
Crippled dope fiends in wheelchairs stare/
Vision blurry, cause buried deep in they mind are hidden stories/
Bet he’s a mirror image of that 70’s era/
Finished for the rest of his life, till he fades out/”
His lyrics were so powerful that we froze there in admiration; wondering—how can a juvenile so young possess so much knowledge? Our minds wandered alongside the visionary rap uttered by the young spitta, and then we realized—we were in the presence of a great orator.
“The liquor store workers miss him but then it plays out/
So many ways out the hood but no signs say out/
Mental slave house where gats go off, I show off/
Ni^^as up north, prison-ology talk, till they time cut off/
You should chill if you short, prepare deep thought/
To hit the street again, get it on; get this paper and breed again/
Plan to leave something behind/
So your name will live on, no matter what the game lives on/”
We wondered what his name was, and then a passerby stopped and said, “His name is Nasty Nas—the greatest emcee ever!” And then the elderly man disappeared in between the buildings. The sky, serving as the ceiling, darkened. Then Ronald Isley descended with two emissaries. His emergence illuminated the landscape, and then he sung.
“Looking out of my project window/
Oh, I feel uninspired/
Looking out of my project window/
Oh, it makes me feel so tired/”
This can’t be life? some of us uttered. Then Nas dropped more knowledge, but now, instead of just us, other souls pooled together and a large crowd was formed; and police officers, standing on the outskirts of the projects—tucked their weapons in its holsters, and then they started bopping their heads to Nas’ lyrics.
“At night the windows were speakers, pumping life out/
A fight, people screaming cause somebody pulled a knife out/
So I looked at this poem, I’m hooked to this tune/
Every night the same melody, hell sounded so heavenly/
But jail was ahead of me/
Reading’s what I should’ve done, cause my imagination would run/
I was impatient to get out and become part of the noise out there/
I used to stare, five stories down/
Basketball courts, shot up playgrounds/
And I witnessed the murders and police shake-downs/”
‘Project Windows’ is the fifth track off of Nas’ fourth studio album ‘Nastradamus’, which was released in 1999 via Columbia/Ill Will Records; and it has gone on to sell more than 1.2 million copies worldwide.
“Nastradamus offers little in the way of prophecy, and even less for the next chapter in Hip-Hop,” said Kevin Powell/Rolling Stone (Jan. 20,2000). “But there are some highlights: ‘Project Windows’ features the mournful utterances of Ronald Isley and offers a glimpse of Nas’ Langston Hughes-like genius.”
“Teach the girls karate, and school your sons/
Not to hate, but to stay awake/
Cause the scars a razor make is nothing in comparison/
To the gas left on this whole mass, if we don’t get it controlled fast/”
“Despite its denunciation, Nastradamus contains one of Nas’ best creations,” said Julian Kimble/VIBE (Nov. 21, 2014). “’Project Windows’ is a definitive Nas offering, as he reflects on the madness which shaped his perspective with a detached, yet intricate awareness that’s alarming considering the subject matter. The gloomy piano keys and Ronald Isley’s pained background vocals add to the gloom, creating the perfect audio depiction of a dreary, 40-degree day in the Queensbridge Houses captured in black and white.”
The prophetic message on ‘Project Windows’ has rarely been forgotten since its release, and its impact will continue to inspire listeners to think because thoughts become things that will one day shape our future. It’s just too bad that there wasn’t a music video for ‘Project Windows’.