Many argue that ‘94s Illmatic is the greatest hip-hop album of all time. It has been both a gift and a curse for Nas in his career of disappointments. Now, in his seventh album, Street’s Disciple, it’s evident that Nas has regained creative control over his work. The high dosage of rawness, sincerity, satire and robustness produce Nas’s best work since Illmatic.
The point of departure for Nas’s reclamation started with Stillmatic. Not only because it was his comeback album, but also reflected his personal metamorphosis caused by the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, his home.
Nas continues divulging these revelations on Street’s Disciple. The vivid depictions of street life in black America are extended to include critiques of American society and its political institutions. Nas sarcastically criticizes contradictory prominent black “role models” over the playful piano melody of “These Are Our Heroes.” On “American Way,” the George Clinton sample of “Atomic Dog” inexplicably makes the perfect track for Nas’s muckraking lyrics.
One of the strongest attributes of this album is its production. The album begins strongly with a piano intro spilling into the blazing guitar and drums of “Message to the Feds: Sincerely, We the People.” Moreover, Nas spits with hunger and energy not heard from the artist in a long time.
Many critics have ignored the experimentation with live instrumentation throughout the album. The lead single, “Bridging the Gap,” is filled with an array of bluesy instruments. Although the traditional riff played on the bass and harmonica sounds a bit repetitive, the rich composition more than makes up for it. The direction of the album falls into the hands of three producers, Salaam Remi, L.E.S. and Chucky Thompson, whose musical consistency gives Street’s Disciple the feel of a classic album.
The most powerful feature of Street’s Disciple is the rich and ample subject matter. There is so much to soak in and virtually no filler. This is expressed in how the double-disc opus is divided: Side one is the disciple spitting truth and reciting street poetry, and side two is the mature self-reflections of the disciple. On “Just a Moment,” Nas and rapper Quan ask for moments of silence for the victims of oppressive violence as the melancholy strings and steady tempo help the listener to feel every word. The prime example of Nas’s self-evaluation on the second disc is “U.B.R. (Unauthorized Biography of Rakim).” Illmatic had declared Nas as the natural successor to hip-hop’s original poet, Rakim.
Out of the many conclusions to draw from Street’s Disciple, one stands out: Nas cannot settle for four-star albums. His ardent performance warrants better than the annoying flaws that gnaw at the album’s presentation, which, if eliminated, could have pushed this near-classic to a flawless masterpiece. As Street’s Disciple creates debate over which album is second to Illmatic, the eyes of hip-hop will be eagerly anticipating what Nas can accomplish next.
Rating : 4 / 5 stars