Black Music Month: Nas - Street's Disciple

"Cops ride by squeezin' their trigger fingers at me, so I would go to school and try to get good grades, teacher wrote mommy and kicked me outta school for having braids, so she cussed them, said "My son ain't no motherfuckin hoodlum" they judged us, thinking that we dumb cause where we come from"

Street's Disciple is the seventh album from Nas where he talks on the role of a shepherd for the streets after growing from a disciple. A man who followed the streets only to forge his own path and go back for others. It's an album that received mixed reviews. Most hailed it as a great album and others criticized Nas largely citing his arrogance and question why he could lecture politicians, athletes, actors and other rappers.

Most of the production is done by Salaam Remi and L.E.S. two producers that Nas works with more than anyone else. It also features more of his father's solos at various points with him even being featured alongside him on the track "Bridging The Gap," no longer simply a production note. Despite being two disk this is one of the few occasions where nobody could complain about the beats Nas chose, because he has suffered some issues with selection in the past, and sometimes the present. It's okay, at least he acknowledges it.

The thing to recognize here is we're looking at a more mature Nas who has changed his views on life. At points on the album he displays an alliance to The Five Percent Nation while no longer suggesting life is a bitch. Instead he looks to capitalize on opportunities to better the entire black community. This is also around the time of President Bush's second term and sees Nas taking shots an enormous list of targets in all kinds of professional areas. A common phrase going around is "who gonna check me?" Street's Disciple saw Nas asking multiple times who would check him, and nobody did.

"A Message To The Feds," sees Nas take aim at the federal prison system. Telling black people they shouldn't live in fear, celebrate for those locked away or dead instead. The second verse is when it takes a serious turn after the beat flip. Telling them that they can keep locking us up because "We never will die, we black and tough." He goes on to point out how a third of black men are incarcerated, a rate higher than any other race, for mostly non violent crime. After the police enemies he goes on to state "our enemies pullin' on innocent women and children." Because let's face it the police don't care when they kill black people, doesn't matter if they're twelve or pregnant. He then goes on to state "It wasn't no ghetto killers who mixed up the coke and put guns in our buildings
But I'm not gon' cry, and I'm not gon' just stand and watch you die.
" Drawing attention to the fact that Ronald Reagan did indeed push drugs into black neighborhoods to fund Contras from Nicaragua. Cocaine came to the states on military planes. It did ravage the black community, but Nas won't cry about it. Instead he'll do what he can to overcome that. Nas states "man makes rules and laws, you just a ruthless dog, your kennel is waiting," equating them to nothing more than dogs sent to attack, making law enforcement unintelligent animals who can't think for themselves.

The last key line on the song is "you devils will run back into the caves you came from," which may seem like a throwaway line, but it's anything but that. The Five Percent Nation believes in a black scientist named Yakub. 6,600 years ago Yakub lived, but he did not like other black people. He spent the next 600 years in a cave using selective breading and eugenics to bread away all traces of the black race. Black men are viewed as Gods in the Five Percent Nation and black women as Earths. By breading away all aspects of the black race. Yakub died but his followers created a race of white devils, the opposite of the Black Gods. They specialized in trickology to usurp the black race such as whispering lies to a pregnant mother to make sure the baby is born evil. They were exiled to Europe until Moses drew them out of their caves and attempted to civilize them. Nas believes that sooner or later they will be chased back into their caves. This story is also where the term white devil comes from. I'd like to see Rap Genius figure that one out.

"Nazareth Savage," is another track where Nas is out to prove that he's the greatest rapper alive. He reminds new rappers of the things he's done as well as offers to lead them because they're lost. He orders them to repent and follow the Nazareth Savage, him. He also warns that if you cross him he'll end your career. Fun fact, 50 Cent tried and Nas made him apologize after one song.

"American Way," is Nas taking aim at politicians and conscious rappers. At the time there was a rise in the number of "conscious" rappers. A sect of rappers who had been long ignored and written off. Nas took aim at a lot of them, especially those who were participating in the Rap The Vote movement to get more blacks to vote in the Bush vs Kerry election. He points out how the black vote doesn't mean anything, considering 80% of the minority votes were thrown out in Florida that year, I'd say he's right. In addition to just throwing away votes the excessive gerrymandering has made the black vote irrelevant in many places. He points out that for many black people voting is simply choosing Satan or Satan. He then goes on to take aim at Rap The Vote pointing out that ten years prior both Republicans and Democrats were aligned in order to censor rap music. The alliance only resulted in the parental advisory sticker we see on albums today, but the point is, they tried. Then they came to hip hop attempting to get votes. He then calls Condoleeza Rice and Uncle Tom who does nothing but pander to blacks for Republican votes without ever making change. He then calls out rappers for lying to kids about who they are with a false persona. He lets them know that even Democrats like John Kerry view them as monkeys. Instead he urges them to help forge gang truces and defend other blacks from being brutalized by police. Nas spends the second verse of the track pointing out how black women are unfairly blamed and stereotyped. His ex-wife Kelis sings the hook from the perspective of an American Politician who only cares about making money and sums it up nicely:

"I don't care about the runaways, I don't care about who's gay, I don't care about dying of AIDS, but I care if I got paid, who even cares about the president? I think they're making a mistake, I don't care about the hurricane, as long as my family's safe, I don't care about the candidates, they burnt this country to bits, yeah I think about this everyday, that's the American Way"

"These Are Our Heroes," takes aim at the celebrities the media hails as black heroes and why they aren't. In the first verse he takes aim at people from the hood who overcame racism only to turn around and preach respectability politics and ignore the people they grew up with. Think Bill Cosby and Ben Carson. He also takes aim at people who enjoy being the token black person who enjoys being told they're better than other blacks. No matter how much the media promotes these people, they aren't in the black community. They aren't our heroes. Second verse he takes aim at athletes, especially Kobe Bryant. Kobe was known for always wearing designer suits and holding himself above other black people, until that rape trial. At that point he switched to wearing big chains like rappers to appeal to the black community after his sponsors dropped him, but he still wasn't in the hood. Only running asking the hood for support when he got rejected. Third verse takes aim at rappers pretending to be a conscious MC only to sell records only to hear the album and realize they sound like stereotypes. Instead he points out people who we should see as heroes. People like Michael Eric Dyson and Nikki Giovanni. People who made it out the hood and still came back. The skit at the end is Nas avoiding questions from a group hecklers including a rapper asking if he's really helping if he shows up to the hood in a nice car as well as a man who calls Nas cocky for not simply throwing out money, but Nas assures them he loves the hood.

"Just A Moment," is a track where Nas and his former protge Quan have a moment of pseudo-silence for people who have died in black on black violence and unnecessary rap beefs while urging children not to partake in these things. If you're wonder what happened to Quan Nas addressed that in 2013 with "They took my cosign, but they ain't let me EP their tapes and when they joint tanked, that's when they point blame," so they haven't been together for a while. The song "Reason," has Nas trying figure out why the world is. In it has ponders why he was kicked out of school for his braids. He also wonders why a black mother is considered a bad mother because her kids are hungry but she works as a nanny to a white family to do all she can for her own. Then he ponders why people ignore facts that aren't convenient like President Bush's family ties to funding Hitler. Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X's wife, dying because of her grandson Malcom, it's not arguable, he was the black sheep of the family. It's Nas pointing out no matter how hard he tries he can't understand the world.

"Street's Disciple," is one of the tracks that features Nas' father. It starts with Nas telling a kid that he shouldn't be involved in the streets because it'll ruin his life. This is followed by Nas' father mentioning Nas own past. Nas starts to reminisce on the things he did growing up. Most notably the death of his best friend William Grahm also known as Ill Will. Nas is still bothered the loss and named his first album Illmatic in his honor as well as his label, Ill Will Records and still mentions him gives him shout outs at the starts of tracks today. Nas comes to the realization that he grew up in the streets becoming a disciple of the streets and realized that the younger kids will also become Street's Disciple.

"Bridging The Gap," is the other track that features Nas father Olu Dara. It features a heavy blues intro and backing that samples Muddy Water's "Manish Boy," in addition to Olu Dara playing one of his horns as Nas raps. Nas talks about falling in love with music by accidentally finding some of his dads old records. He started writing rhymes after he learned his father was a musician and got kicked out of school. Nas praises his father for always staying faithful to his wife and kids despite the fact he traveled across the world performing. The two bridge the generational gap with music.

"War," is a track about how his other ex-wife Cameron, notable for sleeping with Jay Z and Allen Iverson is still waging war with Nas especially after marrying Kelis but he tries to make it through for his daughter including trying to keep her away from him. "Me and You," is Nas apologizing to Destiny for missing her kindergarten graduation, due to Cameron, but promising he still loves her. He tells her to listen to her mother even if Nas and Cameron aren't on good terms at all. These two tracks along with "Bridging The Gap," help paint a portrait of how black fatherhood can be complicated but it's important.

I'd be lying if I said Street's Disciple wasn't one of my favorite albums, it's almost the perfect album. However it suffers from one thing, it's too long. The album is two disc and twenty-five songs long, twenty-six, if you get the one with the second version of "Theif's Theme." The song is filled with a lot of lessons. The hypocrisy of black stereotypes, racism and systems of oppression, as well as why you should overcome that stuff and be better, but never turn your back on the people you grew up with. It's also notable for Nas doing the exact opposite of what almost everyone else in hip hop was doing at the time. When everyone was attempting to build conscious personas and lend themselves to politics, Nas did the opposite. If Watch The Throne is a celebration of black excellence Street's Disciple is a celebration of what people go through to get there.

Feel free to follow along with our Black Music Month Series

You can hear Darrell on the CP Time and Powerbomb Jutsu podcasts. He also plays classic arcade games on The Cabinet
Black Music Month: Nas - Street's Disciple Black Music Month: Nas - Street's Disciple Reviewed by Darrell S. on Wednesday, June 10, 2015 Rating: 5

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