Despite several platinum albums, Nas has spent the last 10 years chasing the critical acclaim he received for 1994’s Illmatic. Now, with his seventh studio album, Street’s Disciple, he can relax. The double disc, while not as tight and gritty as his debut, is far more ambitious in scope and fearless in its approach. In this way, it recalls another seminal album — Ice Cube’s Death Certificate — and not just because of the ”Atomic Dog” sample in ”American Way.”
Let’s take that song, for starters. Nas’ lyrics echo Cube’s ‘91 anti-Bush frustrations and then some: ”Who you gonna elect, Satan or Satan?” asks Nas. ”In the hood, nothing is changing.” Like Cube, Nas, a self-professed ”rebel to America,” boldly fires off opinions both profound and/or potentially polarizing. On ”Coon Picnic (These Are Our Heroes),” Kobe Bryant catches hell for cavorting with a white woman. ”You can’t do better than that,” sneers Nas, ”the hotel clerk who adjusts the bathroom mat?” Later, he takes a dig at Taye Diggs. It’s like Cube’s ”True to the Game” with names named.
While the two-part Death Certificate represented Cube’s passage from his reckless, hostile youth (the ”Death” side) to his politically hostile adulthood (the ”Life” side), Disciple’s disc 2 — call it the ”Wife” side — finds Nas waxing less aggro about daughter Destiny and fiancée Kelis. Sure, ”Remember the Times” is a crude romp and ”The Makings of a Perfect Bitch” is sexual objectification twice as creepy as Cube’s ”Givin’ Up the Nappy Dug Out,” but both of Nas’ songs, amazingly, big up monogamy.
The set’s nostalgic production — old soul samples, ’80s-era breakbeats, bluesy guest appearances from his jazz-player pops — nicely underscores Nas’ reconciliation with his roots and responsibilities. But nothing says it better than the master lyricist himself: ”Got an office on Broadway, business in Jamaica,” he rhymes on the wistful, optimistic ”War,” ”Tell my daughter try the hardest so the best schools’ll take her.” Rebels going buppie? Seeing as how Ice Cube runs a Hollywood production company these days, it seems that this is indeed the American way.