Album: Nas

Street's Disciple, COLUMBIA
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The Independent Culture

The rap double album, it must be conceded, does not have a particularly auspicious history, reflecting as it does the point in an artist's career when simple self-respect tips over into self-importance. It's draining enough to sit through a whole album's worth of boasts, threats and complaints, but two albums' worth is simply exhausting.

The rap double album, it must be conceded, does not have a particularly auspicious history, reflecting as it does the point in an artist's career when simple self-respect tips over into self-importance. It's draining enough to sit through a whole album's worth of boasts, threats and complaints, but two albums' worth is simply exhausting.

Nas rings enough changes to sustain one's interest for about three-quarters of Street's Disciple, though it's his writing skills that keep you listening rather than his monotonous delivery, an uninflected stream of verbiage that seems to eschew style and character as detracting from the seriousness of his raps. So vocal colour comes from Nas's guests: Busta Rhymes's explosive interjections in "Suicide Bounce", Maxwell's soulful hook to "No One Else in the Room", Doug E Fresh's vocal beatbox licks and Ludacris's rap on "Virgo", and the refrain by Nas's wife Kelis on "American Way".

The album's quite a family affair, with Nas celebrating his nuptials in "Getting Married" - "Say hello to the man, goodbye to the gigolo" - and cooing over daughter Destiny in "Me and You". He has his father, jazz trumpeter Olu Dara, muse admiringly upon the family's cultural heritage in "Street's Disciple" and the single "Bridging the Gap", which uses the classic Muddy Waters "I'm a Man" riff to carry Nas's tribute to a papa who "was not a rollin' stone/ though he went around the world playin' his horn", and who "gave me the right kind of books to read".

His tedious feud with Jay-Z seems to be on hold, unless Jay's the unnamed rival in "Nazareth Savage" who's "tryin' to protect your cabbage, you runnin' from the Nazareth savage". The album's tone is more one of respect - for fallen brothers in "Just A Moment", for women in "American Way", for his hip-hop hero in "UBR (Unauthorized Biography of Rakim)", one of a continuing series of appreciations of old-school rappers. Typically, most tributes involve counterbalancing disses of those who fail to reach Nas's exacting standards, such as Condoleezza Rice ("She's got to prove she ain't just another coon Uncle Tom fool") and the basketball player Kobe Bryant, savaged not so much for his sexual morals as his treachery: "You beat the rap, Mr Jigaboo, fake nigger you/ Now you turn and shit on Shaq/ Who knew?"

Musically, the tone is set by producer Salaam Remi's use of string glissandi and portentous orchestral samples, which cast a dark, ominous shadow. More appealing is Q-Tip's use of distorted "Atomic Dog" samples for the bumping groove to "American Way". But was it really necessary for Nas to disinter the rotting corpse of lumbering proto-metal anthem "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" for "Thief's Story"? Some things are just unforgiveable.

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