If you happened to drive around the Champaign-Urbana area in the last month you might have noticed a number of very large billboards that read in big black letters, “Hip-hop Rots Your Mind,” against a plain white backdrop.
I could write a thesis on how much this pisses me off, but instead I’m going to review Nasir Jones’s latest release, Street’s Disciple, which I feel is not only a good example of hip-hop’s power and importance, but also serves to show why some are misguided into labeling the genre negatively.
First off if you don’t remember Nas, he is the street poet who’s debut album, Illmatic, is regarded among the great records to ever come out of rap music. He is most definitely one of the premier MCs of our time, but in recent years he has been clouded by a ridiculous feud with fellow New Yorker Jay-Z.
Dumb feuds, a prevalence of misogyny and violence are among the things that critics point to when condemning the genre. And on Street’s Disciple Nas does not shy away from any of these issues. Instead he looks upon them as an older, wiser man than the one that busted onto the scene in 1994.
There are no excuses for Nas making a song recalling the disgusting details about all the women he has slept with (“Remember the Times”), but there is a point to the rapper’s ramblings. On disc one he looks at the street life (the good and the bad), and on disc two he examines his new adult upper-class life. Throughout he is commenting on the state of black America.
On “American Way” Nas chastises the American voting system (his timing could be better), pointing out how the African-American vote is often ignored. On “These are Our Heroes” he goes after famous black celebrities, who in his eyes have failed to give back to the community; he goes as far as calling Condoleezza Rice a “coon, Uncle Tom fool.”
Though there are a number of bad tracks where Nas attempts to keep his street cred in line with his new married life (in general the album is much too long at 25 tracks), it’s a joy to hear the best lyricist alive rap about issues that still affect the ghetto. For Nas that has always been the ultimate goal, bringing the ghetto struggle to the mainstream. Perhaps some of his words are too adult for young ears, but the intelligent listeners of America must be able to sort through the surface images of music and find the true meanings.
All rap songs are not just about “dropping it like it’s hot” or getting crunk in the clubs, some actually challenge us to think. That’s more than can be said for the rest of pop radio.