Whether Nas discourses on street life, politics or love, you can always count on one thing: He is not going to pull any punches.
Nas’ latest project, the double-CD “Street’s Disciple” (Ill Will Records/Columbia), is no exception. The Nov. 30 release finds the Queens, N.Y., griot picking up the personal threads woven throughout his critically acclaimed “God’s Son.” On that 2002 album, he waxed rhymes about the loss of his mother and newfound love with Star Trak/Zomba Label Group artist Kelis.
With marriage around the corner, a more content Nas greets listeners on the second half of “Street’s Disciple,” his eighth studio album. But on the first disc, the 30-year-old channels Nasty Nas, the vivid storyteller who crafted the seminal 1994 debut “Illmatic.”
As Nas explains, the new project tells the saga of a man married to the streets, the changes he is going through and the need for a woman in his life.
“I wanted to approach this album from a storytelling vibe again,” he says. “The songs deal with where I believe men’s heads should be at, not falling into bullshit. It may be lighter than ‘God’s Son,’ but there’s still a lot of content. And I’ve also got something on there for the ladies.”
Few contemporary artists can execute enough compelling songs for a single CD, let alone a double set. But Nas fires more hits than misses as he alternates among teacher, lover, father and streetwise social commentator.
Vestiges of his previous personas surface on such tracks as the cutting “Coon Picnic (These Are Our Heroes).” It satirically excoriates the new millennium African-American stereotypes reflected on TV and in other media. “American Way” admonishes government officials as well as hip-hop artists new to the political arena. Nas then entreats people to “Live Now,” which ends with the arresting beep of a patient flat-lining.
The second CD essays more of what personally propels the evolving Nas. He ruminates on his sexual past and envisions his impending marriage on “Remember the Times” and “Getting Married,” pays tribute to old-school rap and kindred spirit jazz on “U.B.R. (Unauthorized Biography of Rakim)” and “Bridging the Gap.” He also aurally embraces his 9-year-old daughter on “Me & You (Dedicated to Destiny).”
Joining Nas on this excursion are producers L.E.S., Salaam Remi, Chucky Thompson, Q-Tip and Buckwild. Guests include Kelis, Amerie, Busta Rhymes, Ludacris, Doug E. Fresh, Maxwell, Nas’ father, noted jazz musician Olu Dara, and Nas alter ego Scarlett.
An MTV regular, Nas says balancing street credibility and commercial success exerts less pressure than what he puts on himself. “The pressure comes from me,” he says. “After you put out a lot of work, you have to challenge yourself to do something new that feels good or makes you cry. That’s what I want my music to do. I beat myself up about that a lot. Hip-hop fans aren’t the audience that was there when hip-hop was real in the ’80s.”
Following two singles early singles released this summer — “Thief’s Theme” and “You Know My Style” — “Bridging the Gap” featuring his father, noted jazz musician Olu Dara, is the set’s first formal single, with a video directed by Diane Martel. It is No. 49 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart.
“It was a move we needed to make for ourselves even more than for our fans,” Nas says about collaborating with his dad on “Bridging the Gap.” “It was one hell of an experience and a milestone move for hip-hop tying together the father/son relationship, his musical background and how it relates to me.”
While putting together a tour sometime next year, Nas is eyeing a return to acting — something he hasn’t done since his debut in the 1999 movie “Belly.” He’s also contemplating a follow-up to the 2000 gold-certified compilation “QB Finest” as well as recording other artists on Ill Will.
“I plan to be occupying myself with a lot of different things 10 years from now,” Nas says. “It’s hard to maintain a career in hip-hop as an artist, but I still plan to be doing that.”
Excerpted from the Dec. 4, 2004, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
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