It's fitting that the album-length-remix craze got ignited by 9th Wonder, MF Doom, and up-and-comer Soul Supreme taking on Nas albums. By cutting out some of the filler and creating a consistent sound, Nas' remixes gave his albums two elements they otherwise lacked: economy and cohesion. Suffice to say, Nas' latest plus-sized, two-disc opus Street's Disciple isn't too big on economy or cohesion, but its passion and intensity are hard to deny. This is particularly true of its first disc, wherein Nas channels Ice Cube back in his Jheri-Curl-sporting, Amerikkka-hating glory days, first on the incendiary manifesto "American Way," and then with the corrosive "These Are Our Heroes," a 2005 take on "True To The Game" in which Nas aims his invective at black celebrities for ostensibly selling out their race.
Where the first disc's highlights are dominated by rage, the second disc is dominated, uncharacteristically enough, by love. Nas' engagement to R&B singer Kelisyet another way in which Nas' life and career has perversely echoed that of his most famous rival, Jay-Zseems to have done wonders for his mood. Disc two practically boils over with love and affection, not just for Keliswhose name is never mentioned, but whose presence is hard to missbut also for his hero Rakim, his daughter, his old man (acclaimed musician Olu Dara), and black music from blues to jazz to hip-hop. Disc two climaxes with a suite that begins with Nas giving up his womanizing ways and embracing the joys and challenges of domesticity, but bottoms out with "The Makings Of A Perfect Bitch," a track that layers miscalculation upon miscalculation, beginning with its loathsome title, then piling on a trite song concept and lyrics that make Nas seem half creepy misogynist, half serial killer. It's a regrettable misfire, especially on a disc largely devoted to family. Dara pops up on two standouts, "Street's Disciple," where, like Jay-Z's mom on The Black Album, he cops to the godlike brilliance his son displayed even during infancy, and the single "Bridging The Gap," an ecstatic tour through the history of black music.
But the contradictions should probably be expected by now. Nas boasts one of the most complicated mythologies in hip-hop. He's the rare artist who qualifies as both his genre's lyrical savior and his own Judas, having betrayed himself for platinum plaques, hit singles, and a jiggy new image. Happily, Nas began the process of winning back his soul with the grimy Stillmatic, and his return to relevance continues with this urgent if uneven effort.