Street's Disciple

No rapper is more conflicted than Nas, the prodigal son of hip-hop's early-Nineties golden age. For the better part of the decade since his perfect debut, 1994's Illmatic, he has openly struggled with the burdens that come when you're supposed to be saving a genre. "I carried the cross to help you afford that plasma screen," he raps here on "Nazareth Savage." On the first half of this two-disc set, producer Salaam Remi exhumes vintage break beats while Nas pretends the last ten years of career uncertainty never happened, tackling police profiling and the shortcomings of the forty-third president with the fire of a younger, less cynical artist. Nas doesn't shy away from his favorite topic, though, which is himself: The second disc sketches a narrative arc from street-running naif to soon-to-be-married father. The well-worn beats ensure the album is good even as they prevent it from being great. But Disciple is the rare instance of hip-hop old and wise enough to look backward without forgetting what it was like to look ahead with awe and wonder.

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