Street’s Disciple


ots of rappers are lazy.

Jay-Z, for instance, is frequently lazy on record. He pulls it off, much of the time, because he makes everything sound effortless; lyrics just roll off his tongue, conversationally direct. Nas, on the other hand, sounds terrible when lazy. And there’s no need to catalogue the examples, the countless tracks where Nas either lacked the ambition or the willingness to make a song succeed, to have it stand out from the pack of NYC thug snoozery. The best Nas work jumps at you, a musical knife to the gut, so even though your eyes glaze over halfway through I Am…, “Nas Is Like” cuts through the bullshit, his voice ripping through the cinematic loops and grimy tunnel-banging drums. Nas’ brand new double-album Street’s Disciple is full of moments like these—each track explosively gritty, focused and personal. Most importantly, Nas sounds inspired—this isn’t the forced comeback effort of Stillmatic or the half-assed stab at relevance that made up most of God’s Son. Street’s Disciple reveals Nas at a new peak, finally comfortable in the post-millennial hip-hop world.

The production—almost entirely by longtime collaborators Salaam Remi and Chucky Thompson—is unexceptional, yet accompanies Nas’ tone perfectly. The beats are often little more than a chopped loop or breakbeat and the occasional 808, so they deftly emphasize Nas’ rapping. The production complements him, yet never outshines him. There are no huge hooks, no superstar collaborations—just Nas and some grainy New York breaks. The ambience on tracks like “Rest of My Life” and “War” sound dirty, evocative and nostalgic all at once. The lead single “Thief’s Theme” is a familiar sample, (the Incredible Bongo Band’s cover of “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida”) twisted and distorted into a harsh street anthem that crawls down New York’s midnight boulevards like the stocking-capped bandits scheming for dollars in the music video.

Like past Escobar efforts, it would be simple to watch him fall, to lazily spit some vague rhymes about how far he has come, incorporating weak Italian Mafioso references or disgusting sexuality and misogyny; yet Nas sounds motivated and genuinely interested in rapping, although not in Jay-Z-esque wordplay or classic Illmatic street narratives. It is personal, biographical and specifically topical. “American Way” decisively attacks the “uncle toms” he sees hurting the black community, finds him searching for “someone from the hood as my councilman” and broad siding the black “heroes” of that same community on “Coon Picnic”. He effectively discusses his own family in a way that “Dance” from God’s Son tried (and failed) to do, with “Me And You”, a graceful song dedicated to his daughter that rides Slick Rick’s “Hey Young World” vibe near the end of the album. He switches up his flow from languid matter-of-fact proclamations into double-time triplets on “A Message to the Feds”. And in “U.B.R.”, Nas salutes his chief inspiration Rakim: “at sixteen son was watchin’ him / Mesmerized, respect, not jockin’ him,” over a beat that echoes the breaks from the end of “Microphone Fiend”, heard outside club doors.

Street’s Disciple is also well-sequenced, particularly the four-song exploration of his relationships: the sexual memoirs of “Remember the Times” lead directly to Nas on the hunt in “Makings of the Perfect Bitch”, the eventual resolution “Getting Married” and the honeymoon experience of “No One Else in the Room”. On “Getting Married”, an elegant song that relies on a sublime flute riff for the chorus, Nas flips the music-as-a-metaphor cliché to great effect while discussing his marriage to Kelis: “Will you take music as your wedded wife? / Psych, this ain’t about music / You know who I’m talkin’ to.”

This is not to say this album is perfect—like most double albums, it could use some editing. The beat on “Live Now” lurches upon the same tired Earth, Wind and Fire loop for the entire song, and even Nas’ deathbed reflections can’t save the musical monotony. And once again, Nas’ attempts to describe his sexual encounters often end up being uncomfortably creepy (she “tried to eat [his] excrement”?) on the otherwise entertaining trip down intercourse-memory lane.

For the most part, however, Street’s Disciple confirms that Nas remains a dazzling and singularly talented rapper. What differentiates this album is not the production, or Nas’ prodigal skills, or even his position as a “streets disciple.” This is Nas’ most personal-sounding work—and as a result, it is one of his most exceptional. Hip-hop fans like to pretend that it was “The Takeover” that revitalized Nas’ career. While Jay’s lyrical assault may have been the catalyst, this album proves passion was what Nas was missing; passion for his wife, for his daughter, for his people and for rap music as a whole.

Reviewed by: David Drake

Reviewed on: 2004-11-29

Recent Reviews By This Author

Cam - Purple Haze
Devin The Dude - To Tha X-Treme
Talib Kweli - The Beautiful Struggle
Masta Ace - A Long Hot Summer
Various Artists - Crunk Classics

Log In to Post Comments
Posted 11/29/2004 - 06:06:29 AM by deadbody:
 8! Have to disagree, double-d. The beats on this album are terrible.
Posted 11/29/2004 - 09:38:35 AM by yoshi4:
 I liked that review a lot, nice one. Sorry 'deadbody', but it aint about the beats, mr drake is looking at the bigger picture and I totally see what he's getting at... I look forward immensely to hearing this for myself though. peace, Y.
Posted 11/29/2004 - 01:25:13 PM by badhaircut:
 I've got Illmatic. Pick up this new one next or something else first?
Posted 11/30/2004 - 12:38:13 AM by rollie_p:
 it's more of a 6 or 7 for me. it has strong points, but ultimately, it's a little forced in the old-school revivalism sometimes. in the end, i hear too much shit that i'll skip in future listens. a lot of it is half-baked in the same way that the most extraneous stillmatic and god's son tracks were. filler is the killer in this case. i agree with you in that the album is focused on his personal life like never before, but it's really awkward, it's too forced. when he talked about his everyday life on illmatic, it was effortless and immediately accessible. 'i'm a nike head, i wear chains that excite the feds' tells me so much more about the struggle than a series of songs about how hard it is to fuck one person, regardless if how well sequenced. how you didn't mention ice cube when talking about 'american way', i dunno. nas invokes amerikkka's most wanted literally and figuratively.
Posted 11/30/2004 - 03:02:15 AM by deadbody:
 Yoshi4, don't ever address me again, shitbag. You haven't even heard the album, so don't give me fanclub shit about some kind of "bigger picture." Nas made another weak album, pal. The only bigger picture being dealt here is the one Nas will install in his SUV. And your "it's not about the beats" bullshit is just that, bullshit. If it had nothing to do with beats, you'd only be buying a cappella albums. I give this album a solid {4}. I don't give a shit about how personal Nas made this album; it's still boring as fuck. Go read Tony Robbins if you want inspiration.
Posted 11/30/2004 - 03:18:21 AM by ddrake:
 Rollie, The thing I love about it is that it doesn't really sound forced to me at all, which Stillmatic and God's Son unquestionably did at times (exceptions of course being "Made U Look" and "Get Down" and I donno the 3 tracks off Stillmatic worth paying attention to). I don't think there's much filler at all; in fact, as far as hip-hop double-albums go, I'd rank this second only to Biggies (People step off; Wu Tang Forever is fulla filler and although BP2 is underrated it is still an average Jay release.) I think the personal-life stuff was really forced on songs like "Dance" from god's son. I mean, he sings " you mamaaaaa" for god's s[ake]. Nas isn't NEARLY as personal on Illmatic - I'm not exactly sure how "I'm a nike head, I wear chains that excite the feds" is nearly as specific as the personal stuff on this album. Not that I think this is as good as Illmatic (what could be, etc. etc. etc.) but it is an entirely different album. I think it succeeded because the personal seems to have truly inspired him on this release; like how his love for Kelis seems to have informed that whole 4-song series. And yeah obviously "American Way" is an homage to Cube but I was more interested in Nas' sudden interest in people; he is much more insightful and cutting on that trick than he was on Stillmatic's "political" tracks ("My country shitted on me"?)
Posted 11/30/2004 - 07:45:33 AM by yoshi4:
 deadbody u could listen to the album a million times and id still be able to understand and appreciate it more than u do. As Kool Keith said "I know your type!" thats what kind of different level we're on when it comes to understanding of music and the direction in which Ive already felt Nas going in the last few years. Plus I already heard quite a bit of this LP online anyways. Regarding beats- "NY State of Mind" on ILlmatic was a very unimpressive beat to me, but its still one of Nas' best songs, easily one of his best... So I know what I'm talking about. innit. nuff said. silence ur rude self. y.
Posted 12/01/2004 - 03:18:42 AM by deadbody:
 Really, come on. Street’s Disciple only {2} beneath his classic Illmatic...? Please. Rest assured that this album will not be seen as anything that close to a classic.
Posted 12/01/2004 - 03:26:45 PM by j.diddy:
 I disagree with nearly everyone here. I'm not going to get into a guessing game about whether or not this album will be considered a classic, but from where I'm sitting it looks pretty hot. Just copped it yesterday, but a couple of comments: * A Message to the Feds is brilliant and perhaps the most searing (and intelligent) indictment of the war on drugs ever put to wax. He calls the war out for the racist gentrification that it is and links the wrongful imprisonment of black youth to the assassination of MLK and even Jeses ("same regime"). * I love how Kelis' ironic last bit both supports and undercuts the message of "American Way." * There seems to be calls for afro-separatism throughout, from American Way to Coon Picnic. I'm not saying that this is correct, but it is interesting. * I love that Nas -- perhaps the most complex MC in the game -- is able to express himself simply and beautifully on "Me and You." *The beats are decent. Mos def not great, but serviceable. It's no Illmatic, but I really think that this is the best album Nas could've made at this point in his career. He's a grown man now, and this is some grown man, serious hip hop.
Posted 12/06/2004 - 05:37:13 AM by NickSouthall:
 Anyone who uses the word "classic", possibly even ironically, is a dead-eyed rockist freakazoid. Do you only want to listen to "classic" albums? Balls to that. I only want to listen to records I enjoy - balls to classicism! What are you, Eagles fans?!
Posted 12/08/2004 - 08:04:45 PM by deadbody:
 Nice straw man, Nick.
all content copyright 2004