Nasir Jones has often said he will never make another Illmatic. But just because fans came to accept that his 1994 classic couldn't be replicated doesn't mean they stopped demanding excellence from Queensbridge's most visionary MC. In fact, it just fueled their expectations of him. Unfortunately, his latest, Street's Disciple, is a disparate double disc overflowing with themes and sounds that lack cohesion and passion.
Having buried the hatchet with Jay-Z, it's irresponsible black celebrities who now stir the MC's scorn. During the piano-backed "Coon Picnic" on the first disc, he condemns certain actors for spreading negative stereotypes, and even lashes out against Kobe Bryant: "Keep getting accused for abusing white pussy," he says. But it's one of the album's few interesting moments, and a modest one at that. Likewise, on the Q-Tip-produced, breakbeat-driven "American Way," Nas tepidly criticizes Condoleeza Rice ("I don't really get this chick") and Bush for disregarding black Americans' interests. The song opens with a ö"Live At The BBQ" vocal sample ("Nas is a rebel to America") that seems to portend an intelligent and furious display, but it turns out to be just a ruse.
Much of the second disc, where Nas dedicates songs such as "Remember the Times " and "Getting Married" to fiancée Kelis, is uninteresting to anyone outside the happy couple's little world. "Remember the Times" is a graphic rundown of his past relationships and sexual encounters; on the latter, he conveys the joy and nervous excitement of the big day, which, in reality, has yet to arrive. He also enlists his pops, jazzman Olu Dara, on the Salaam Remi-produced "Bridging the Gap," a lesson in Black music history. Boom bap drums and a blues harmonica fight for the spotlight on this track, and its brave intentions gets lost in dissonance.
Street's Disciple could have been a conceptual masterpiece à la the Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death. But it takes more than beats that push the envelope to succeed. The vacuous verses ("Coochie get wet while the bass beat bang/You put it on and on and on/Everybody talkin' bout the new Nas song" from "You Know My Style") and sloppy feel of the album (haphazard sequencing, no-name collabos, superfluous tracks) leave you missing the focused verbal assassin who, given just one mike, can rap about anything and make it sound like the truth. Clearly, QB's finest is in a comfort zone, which means Nas-heads will have to wait longer for his next classic.