Internet people are occasionally clever, and when it came time to mock Nas' 2004 album, those folks really put their thinking caps on. Perhaps the given name of "Street's Debacle" is in response to comparatively lackluster sales, general uneasiness with the double album size, discontent with Nas' changing direction, or just a steady and strong seed of hate. Most likely, it's a combination of all of these factors.
Street's Disciple is not Nas' best or his worst album. It doesn't justify a 2-disc length, but it's not driven apart either by this decision. There are woeful production choices (American Way, No One Else Is In The Room) and some rather fierce ones (Nazareth Savage, Sekou Story). And then Nas himself had his ups and downs. A common criticism aimed at the rapper struck against what he literally was rapping about. Personally, I don't think he handled the political subjects very well, but when people started getting mad over Getting Married, for instance, it came off as the result of a bitter rift spurred by a once-favorite rapper no longer rapping for or about them anymore. See, this wasn't Nas the stairwell rapper, or Nas the jiggy rapper, or Nas the vengeful rapper, or Nas the melancholy rapper, for the most part, Street's Disciple showcased Nas, the 30 something year-old man who happened to rap. This is not to say he was divorced from "the streets" or that he forgot all that made him what he is, but his focus shifted. The image-strong descriptions still played a role, but they were used to detail pre-wedding jitters and cufflinks. The storytelling ability was still there, but it told a cautionary tale that captured a bedside, as opposed to curbside, death. That unique stoop dweller voice still stood out, but it was speaking on his old life. Lyrically and thematically, this wasn't an album to appease Illmatic fans, Stillmatic coat-tailers, or other preformed flocks. This was something different. Nas made an album for himself. Street's Disciple is a rap record with growth and missteps, flaws and strengths, but it's not a debacle.
I've read an interesting theory as of late that spoke on another way the Internet, and especially the rise of peer-to-peer sharing, has been setting new albums up for failure. Not only do mp3s rarely translate into the best listening experience, and not only does the anonymity of the online message board make negativity more trendy, but when, for sample reasons or otherwise, a number of the pre-release songs get leaked, win fans, and don't make the final album, a chord of disappointment sets in more easily. "Why didn't Jay include Get My Shit Off?" "Why didn't Ghost include Charlie Brown?" "How could Nas not put Good Morning, Serious, or Talk of New York somewhere on those two discs?" While the point about pre-LP downloads killing post-LP buzz is valid, eff it, I got mp3s and a grudge that Sony couldn't have made Street's Disciple something better. The songs were there, another Lost Tapes should only be the last-ditch safety net, so why not? As to the Sinful Living entry house metaphor, these were the missing parts that failed the foundation once more.
Good Morning and Serious were leaked before Street's Disciple ever hit stores, and were reportedly both the victims of sample clearance slip-ups. As unfortunate as that is, it's at least understandable. However, what was the problem with Talk of New York? Online just scant months after the late-November album release, past inducing head-nodding, people took to head-scratching, wondering why such a strong song was left unreleased in the first place. In fact, listening to what it delivers, what Street's Disciple could have used more of, and what the fence-leaners and foes were after, Talk of New York would have been a standout and deciding album cut.
Propelled by a heavy and constant piano stab, Salaam Remi's beat, fitted down to the faux-Primo hook, reflects a kinetic Rotten Apple pulse, unrelenting and in your face. It's the ideal backdrop to a bootleg tourist trip around the city, back to the old ("yo baby yo baby yo t-shirts, gold teeth smirks") and then to the present day ("Ground Zero, no lost angels"). Rap music has always had this unique regional and geographic distinction to it, not only in differing production sounds, but in the sense that you could throw on a local tape, and it'd be the like the map in the center of the shopping mall: "you are here." I've never been to Brooklyn, but I know of Albee Square. Never been to Chicago, but I've heard of Cabrini Green. Never been to Texas, but I have some sense of Port Arthur. Better than Zagat's ever could, Hip-Hop's conversational style and territorial nature has repped for city blocks and outskirts, nightclubs and park benches, adresses and area codes; it's not where you're from, but how you're letting the listener know where you're at. That's exactly what Nas does. From referencing the George Washington Bridge down to Jamaica Avenue, you almost get this map, a precise sense of the context that not only inspired a song, a single rapper, but a genre and a culture itself. I won't say that Talk of New York has "instant classic" written all over it, but, despite average attempts by Ja Rule and Tru Life, as Hip-Hop's place of birth really hasn't had an anthem since the days of Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz, it does offer something needed. Talk of New York is all at once an ode to, a portrayal of, and a ever-growing part of that particular that NY life. And it's where Nas sounds most at home.
The trains of New York veinsNas: Talk of New York
The city's a psycho
People of the bloodstream
Mean and ice cold