There are three main points to make about the Nas-AZ track Serious.
1. The Lost Tapes Syndrome
Before Street's Disciple ever hit stores, it was shaping up to be the album of the year. While this was due in part to the standard protocol of "Pre-Nas Album Hype", it was also a reflection of the quality of songs that had already been leaked to mixtapes and online. Five songs specifically, Disciple, Good Morning, Serious, Thief's Theme, and You Know My Style, were cause for real anticipation, "is Nas back?" Well, as most hype usually does, by the time the 2LP hit stores, it lost some steam. Additionally, for those who had been privy to the five aforementioned tracks, it was even more of a letdown: the beat on Disciple was downgraded, Good Morning and Serious were both nowhere to be found, and Thief's Theme and You Know My Style were relegated to the role of bonus tracks. The absence of Serious, in particular, proved most disappointing.
2. Brooklyn-Queens Connection
On Serious, the pairing of Nas and AZ reunited a legendary duo ten years past their first collaboration (Life's A Bitch) and two years since their latest turn (The Essence). Showing no rust at all, the chemistry between the two is especially noticeable in the handoff from AZ's second verse, "we back and we come to conquer . . ." to Nas', "the last of the fuckin' genre." Elsewhere, AZ plays his unique pronunciation to good effect, "the God of the Serengeti / I charge with a large machete / And carve up ya starvin' belly." For his part, Nas' greatest strength on display is his delivery. Here he injects a high dosage of adrenaline into his flow, providing real energy that could have greatly benefited the overall Street's Disciple album. As a final note, because I know it's a tendency, as I have said before, rap music is not a game of Clue, i.e., someone doesn't always have to have murdered someone else. When there are two rappers on a track and both MC's come off, hit repeat and just let it ride. Serious is one such case.
3. Last Bongo in Belgium
As exciting as the performances of Nas and AZ are, the credit for Serious is every bit due to Salaam Remi and the Incredible Bongo Band. Once more sampling the classic Bongo Rock album, as he had previously done for Made You Look and Thief's Theme, Remi's old-school concoction is equal parts irresistible and unrelenting. Immediately, the horns are introduced, as if a signal to prepare for the pandemonium ahead. Next the percussion dives in head first, literally sprinting across the track. Like so many speed freaks charged from a score, it moves, twitching, fritzing, anxious, pulsing, pounding, a head nod that hardly lets up, a constant surge of acceleration. Then, to keep the drug analogy going, Serious too is a rather quick high, topping off at just over two minutes, but worth every second of its rush. Unfortunately, when it didn't show up on Street's Disciple come release day, that was any buzz bottoming out at once. And the reason for its absence? Coincidentally enough, the IBB sample couldn't be cleared in time.
Regardless of where it did or did not end up, Serious is Hip-Hop as it exists beyond the reach of pop music trends and watered-down production, or, as Nas himself puts it, "never neo-soul . . . not Joss Stone, Hives, or Coldplay. . . . Anthony Cruz, Nasir Jones shit, very serious."
Nas f/ AZ: Serious
BONUS: Incredible Bongo Band: Last Bongo in Belgium