Street's Disciple

Artist: NasTitle: Street's DiscipleRating: 4 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Matt Barone

Already an undeniable great in Hip-hop’s still growing annals, Queensbridge veteran Nas has consistently elevated the lyrical bar over the past decade. Even when his albums came under question (like 1999’s conceptually-misguided Nastradamus), his verses rarely came under scrutiny. Having arguably KO’d Jay-Z in one of the musical genre’s most highly publicized battles, while simultaneously resurrecting his widespread respect level in 2001, Nas could have put his career on cruise control. Thankfully for listeners and Hip-hop alike, though, Nas has crafted his most personal work to date with the double-disc opus Street’s Disciple (Columbia); a musical tour-de-force of candid introspection, topical creativity, and genuine rap music that further solidifies his spot in the Hip-hop history books.

Over the course of 23 tracks, Nas remains in top form. “American Way” brings the political hate out of the MC as he venomously calls out our nation’s leaders over Q-Tip’s bouncy “Atomic Dog” sampling, and on the gut-wrenching “Reason,” his street-corner commentary powerfully shines light on urban plight. Nas brings the best out of newcomer Quan on the dedication to lost loved ones, “Just The Moment,” while delivering a cautionary tale of negative guidance with female rookie Winter on the engaging “Sekou Story.” Emotions run high again on “Live Now,’ with Chucky Thompson’s chopped-up piano keys inspiring Nas’ advice for listeners to take advantage of life’s one shot.

While his serious side is intact, Nas is still able to spit metaphorically driven bars that effortlessly blow past his microphone competition. Over Salaam Remi’s dark and haunting instrumental, Nas rips through the defiant “Nazareth Savage.” Remi displays strong chemistry with Nas on more than half of Street’s Disciple’s instrumentals; allowing God’s Son to bask in confidence as he flips Run DMC’s "Jam-Master Jay" on “You Know My Style,” and hardening the mood with marauding guitars on “Thief’s Theme.” Nas even steps behind the boards, hooking up the frantic string arrangement heard on the militant “Suicide Bounce” (featuring a live-wire hook from Busta Rhymes), and concocting eruptive bass and haunting bells on the incredible “U.B.R. (Unauthorized Biography of Rakim),” where he scribes the life story of the God MC.

Positivity and optimism also lay within his mind’s grasp on Street’s Disciple, as Nas offers heartfelt family dedications and light-hearted fare with equal ease. His father, and accomplished musician, Olu Dara helps bring two generations together over Salaam Remi’s Southern blues on “Bridging The Gap.” Backed by L.E.S.’s vibrant soul sample, Nas’ wifey Kelis allows him one last sexual encounter with a past partner on the reflective “Remember The Time,” before rocking a wedding dress on Nas’ audio fantasy “Getting Married.” Conversely, even when the subject matter and approach veer slightly off course, Nas is able to keep the entertainment aspect strong enough to look past head-scratching song choices. “The Makings of a Perfect Bitch” is a puzzling Frankenstein-inspired account of grave robbing and limb patching that feels completely out of place yet still manages to showcase Nas’ songwriting prowess, while the Maxwell-assisted “No One Else In The Room” sports a Michael Jackson disco feel.

Simply put, Street’s Disciple is the year’s most important major label release thus far, and, with a little over a month remaining on 2004’s calendar, it may very well end up being the year’s best commercial release. Rather than direct his attention to the clubs or to popular radio, Nas stays true to himself and gives rap a much-needed boost of quality. Using Street’s Disciple’s verses as convincing evidence, Nas’ mind spray is rivaled by very few in the culture today.