As we revisit Nas’ “Project Windows” featuring Ronald Isley, a certain type of nostalgia might encroach upon our reality. Time might slow down momentarily, and we might feel the thick aroma of death—slowly trespassing inside of our nostrils; and out the corner of our eyes, we might see brown transportation vehicles with sparkling rims and tinted windows.
But the powerful sound of Ronald Isley’s soulful voice, echoing softly inside of our eardrums, is making us numb to the impending danger, which has enveloped us inside of many self-addressed stamped envelopes; and now we are being shipped via UPS to the Queensbridge Housing Projects, the largest public housing development in North America; where thousands of project windows are vacantly staring at the local inhabitants walking to and fro.
We somehow arrive uncaptured; and then we hear dope lyrics bellowing out of one of the barred windows, but we can’t tell which one. So we take a look around like Masta Ace, and shortly afterwards, we identify where the main source of our inspiration is coming from—apartment 5D, where an adolescent teen is rapping with his hat twisted backwards.
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 are so powerful that we are frozen with admiration; wondering—how can a juvenile so young possess so much knowledge? Our minds wander alongside the teen’s visionary raps, and then we realized that we are 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/
“What could his name possibly be?” We wonder; and then a passerby stops and says, “His name is Nasty Nas—the greatest emcee ever!” The elderly man disappears between two big buildings. The sky, serving as a ceiling, darkens significantly; and then Ronald Isley walks out of a tiny vestibule with two emissaries. His emergence illuminates the landscape, and then he sings a soulful melody.
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, and then the lyrical onslaught happens again. Nas drops more in-depth knowledge, but now, instead of just us, he is entertaining the locals who have pooled together to form a large crowd. Even police officers, located on the outskirts of the projects—tuck their weapons in holsters, and they are seen 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 timely message on ‘Project Windows’ will never be forgotten, and its impact will continue to inspire listeners to think because thoughts are things that are shaping our future. It’s just too bad that Columbia Records and Nas didn’t shoot a music video for ‘Project Windows’.