Thursday, April 06, 2006

Street's Debacle

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 veins
The city's a psycho
People of the bloodstream
Mean and ice cold
Nas: Talk of New York

18 Comments:

Blogger Fletch said...

Someone confirm or put down this rumor:

Salaam Remi, as SD's chief producer, and Nas had plans to make SD a 3-disc album, with the final disc being comprised of a NY-centric underground style, a la Talk of New York. But the label thought it stuck out in comparison to the previous 2, and that 3 discs was just stretching it, so it got the axe.

Supposedly Salaam backed up some version of this story in an '05 Scratch interview.

April 06, 2006 1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

talk of new york did show up on funkmaster flex's cd the car show

April 06, 2006 3:10 PM  
Blogger neo said...

Fletch,

I don't see why this wasn't/isn't possible. Nas himself I once read was quoted as saying for Stillmatic, one of the songs he rapped from the perspective of a cockroach in NY..If its anywhere possible I'd like Pres. Carter to ensure Nas's songs on the cutting room floor are compiled as either a mixtape or rare compilation us, fans would pay good money to have that..

I personally LOVED everything about SD save for a few of the missteps in production you mentioned. I did feel it is one of his strongest, most comprehensive works to date though..from the artwork to the last song. It sent a msg, Nas is/has grown..

April 06, 2006 3:40 PM  
Blogger Fletch said...

touché . . .but wasn't that essentially just a glorified mixtape? i mean, Talk of New York had been on the wire almost a whole year before Flex ever gobbled it up.

still unreleased to me.

April 06, 2006 3:41 PM  
Blogger Fletch said...

neo, so you can confirm Nas confirming the cockroach song? woah . . . that's only been hearsay to me until now.

i know Jay's a fan and has been dubbed the "smrtest backpacker", so him taking the energy to put together a set of Nas' best discarded works isn't too much of a stretch. but then you got Sony issues because of when and under what contract they were org. recorded. i think the Def Jam deal allowed for a Greatest Hits package with Sony being able to tack on two unreleased tracks. when i read that, my first reaction was "just two?!"

speaking of artwork, even the unreleased album cover (which i guess was just for promo purposes) shoulda made it to the end. best link i could find:
http://i13.ebayimg.com/04/i/06/b9/49/30_1.JPG

April 06, 2006 3:50 PM  
Anonymous Colin said...

Talk of NY is absolutely ill. Love the track. Little disappointed it didn't make as it would've fit quite well. At least with a bunch of Nas' unreleased stuff right now it didn't really have a place on the album. People wonder why everything on The Lost Tapes didn't make it onto I Am... and Stillmatic. Well, an album is more than a collection of hot tracks, and those songs didn't really fit the mood of those albums.

And on to SD. I still love that album, chop off American Way, No One Else In The Room, and maybe These Are Our Heroes and that is a DAMN good one-disc album. When that album is good, it's GOOD. And although some people may find this as blasphemy, but I don't see how this album isn't on the same level as All Eyez On Me. AEOM is claimed as a classic, but every track on SD is much better than 'Whatz Ya Phone #'.

April 06, 2006 8:31 PM  
Blogger Fletch said...

Colin, I agree with the idea that "an album is more than a collection of hot tracks", but you gotta remember that with Poppa Was A Player, Drunk By Myself, Fetus, Blaze a 50, etc. the OG I Am was a completely different album than we ended up with, so together, under their original intended design, I think they would have made sense. But that's where I'm conflicted. If that version doesn't get bootlegged and actually makes it to store, I don't know if Undying Love or Small World, for example, ever get recorded in the first place.

Making SD one single disc, based on the actual songs released, is a fun little task. Here's my attempt:
13 tracks, about 50 minutes (ideal length IMO)
A Message To The Feds
Nazareth Savage
Streets Disciple
Suicide Bounce
Thief's Theme
Remember The Times
Getting Married
Sekou Story
Live Now
Rest Of My Life
Reason
Just A Moment
War
(you can put Disciple and You Know My Style as B-Sides or hidden tracks if you want)

And I'd guess that All Eyez On Me is that esteemed because it was Pac's first Death Row album and produced no less than 2 giant radio staples. I don't think I'm in a proper unbiased state to say which is better than which, but Pac is a legend to the general public, Nas for Hip-Hop heads. But neither albums are classics.

April 07, 2006 11:10 AM  
Blogger neo said...

I can't confirm it right off the bat..it was some interview I read way back...but I don't see it as a far stretch Nas is one of the most creative and original emcees still present in the mainstream and underground as well..

True Sony would want a piece of the pie in that regard and may even go ahead and keep releasing "Lost Tapes" just to make money off Nas's legacy/name.

April 07, 2006 4:06 PM  
Anonymous Colin said...

I'm assuming some of those songs would've fit with the original I Am..., but 95% of hip-hop fans don't know about the unreleased double-disc. And when people talk about how he should've kept those tracks on I Am... or whatever they're thinking of the album that was released.

And Fletch, leaving 'Briding the Gap' off? Really? I actually like 'Me & You', but can see leaving it off, but 'Briding the Gap'? Thinking about it again, I really can't see why Virgo made it on to Nas' album without becoming a single.

And on the AEOM discussion again briefly. Yes it's the first (and really, only) Death Row release and that coutns for something. But 'Pac was different on that album and seemed tainted by Suge. It just isn't 'Pac to me. I don't want to hear him screaming "westside" on every track. I want to hear tracks like 'Violent' off his first album. The poet, the activist, the real artist.

April 07, 2006 4:42 PM  
Anonymous Dreamah said...

Damn, thanks for this, I had all the other SD unreleased tracks but I'm surprised I hadn't heard of this before... It's a hot song

April 07, 2006 8:47 PM  
Anonymous tm0 said...

It doesn't seem like SD should have been a double album. In the end it sacrafices the overall quality and for what...I think each disc ran about a little over 40 min so its not like many songs needed to be scrapped. I think we could all do without Kelis for an album. I already had TONY but the other two I havent heard yet.

I've seen this album trashed online and one of the things that stuck out to me was when it was said this album lacked a song that would make a Nas' Greatest Hits. Even I Am (NY pt II, Nas Is Like, And A few More) and Nastradamus (Project Windows, Last Words) had tracks that qualified. To me that argument could be argued for easily, although I'm inbetween on a couple songs from SD when compiling my own Greatest Hits. I'm sure that when that album does occur the Olu Dara track will find its way on there.

Anyway, good look on keepin this running. Its written well and his interesting shit on there.

tm0

April 08, 2006 1:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i loved American Way

"Talkin 'bout +Rock the Vote+, you ain't thought about
The black vote mean nathan, who you gonna elect
Satan or Satan? In the hood nothin is changin"

"Condoleeza Rice - I don't really get this chick
Tell her if she ever really cared about poor schools
About poor children, then she gotta prove that she
ain't just another coon Uncle Tom fool
"

"all Black women care about is who got dough
And all we do is call them either bitch or a Black hoe"
I say first brotha you ain't gotta be that cold
Since you ignorant, I'ma show you how the facts go
The biggest example in scandal of history
Were Monica Lewinksy or Donald Trump's pimping spree"


"But who are we to blame, not the dames
It's a man-made game, in essence our woman the same
Beautiful creatures, Black girls birthed the earth
So they deserve to earn man's purse"




IMO everything said on streets disciple needed to be said.... if u didn't like the production.. sorry for ya

April 09, 2006 6:42 AM  
Blogger Fletch said...

colin,
Here's what I really liked about Bridging the Gap: the video and the drums. The lyrics were good, solid single material, but nothing too special. Otherwise, the sample was used in quite a basic and boring fashion, and the hook was rather obvious and cliché. If anything, the apparently Marley Marl remix adds a proper "Hip-Hop edge" to the production and redoes the hook as it should have been. The song as a single probably also turned a lot of people off, Nas fans and not.

tm0,
Stay tuned, I'm going to get to at least one other of the lost-SD tapes soon.

And I could see the title track, Thief's Theme, and Nazareth Savage making a greatest hits package. Those would probably be in my top three from the album, sadly leaving out War, I know.

anonymous American way fan,
Lyrically, the first verse is straight with me, especially the "get me real bonkers like Will Ferrell on cat tranquilizer" line. Beyond that, mostly it's rather incongruent sideways political rambling. Nas has never really been the best political commentator though. The tracks from I Am or Stillmatic, when he seems to want to be addressing the policy side of things, are failing. Silent Murder or One Love, where he's political but not aiming at politicians, if you get what I'm saying, work better. And if you're going to do an Ice Cube song, do it right.

Also, I don't know how I sit with the line "black girls birthed the earth so they deserve to Hermes purse." (The lyrics you posted were off.) "Woman, y'all are sacrificed everything, here's a crocodile handbag." Doesn't seem right.

Then the production, with the done-to-death Atomic Dog sample and the awful hook and bridge put the final nails in the coffin.

April 09, 2006 2:20 PM  
Blogger Hummingbyrd said...

Fletchy.

Yo laink dead.

I want the laink.

Oh. I can tell how much you love HH by the way you analyze nas and THAT my dear friend, is hella fresh.

April 09, 2006 8:01 PM  
Blogger Fletch said...

mm, Talk of New York link is dead? I just tried it, it's working.

A's fans . . .

April 09, 2006 10:05 PM  
Anonymous tm0 said...

Yea, the title track is the one that I would probably end up puttin on there, along with War. Theifs Theme is a dope track but its short, theres others I'd have to put on over it. I keep an eye out for any updates with more SD tracks.

1

April 11, 2006 11:56 AM  
Blogger the prisoner's wife said...

aside from most of I Am (except NY State of Mind Pt. 2 is craaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazy! that piano!) & Nostradamas, i've enjoyed all of Nas' efforts to date. SD was a good album. Nas was growing & taking risks, which is what artists do.

April 13, 2006 1:13 PM  
Anonymous Rishi_B said...

Wow, I love Good Morning and Serious, but I can't stand this song! The beat, the hook... I just can't get into it at all.

By the by, is there anywhere I can go to find out which Lost Tapes tracks belonged to which album?

January 04, 2007 12:23 PM  

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