Nas 

Street's Disciple

Nasir Jones has always struggled to balance the yin and the yang. The sacred and the profane have always tugged equally hard at his soul, though not always at precisely the same time. His third album, 1999's esoteric and pseudo-academic I Am, earned lackluster reviews from critics and fans alike; later that same year came Nastradamus, a self-righteous celebration of excess. But Nas is at his best when he strikes a balance between his angels and his demons, and the two-disc Street's Disciple does exactly that.

Start with the groovy "No One Else in the Room" (featuring Maxwell) and "Me & You," a song dedicated to Nas' daughter, Destiny. The latter is indicative of the NYC rapper's new emphasis on maturity and affection -- the headbanger "U.B.R. (Unauthorized Biography of Rakim)" gives his lyrical hero his due, while numerous other tunes serve as dedications to Nas' wife, R&B singer and milkshake-maker Kelis. Even on the ribald "Virgo," Ludacris delivers his standard lewd harangue on women in general, but Nas' lyrics focus on one in particular.

Comparisons to Nas' debut masterpiece, Illmatic, are unfounded, but Street's Disciple will still make diehard fans go bananas, and probably convert many a casual listener as well.

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