This year Nas won his first Grammy for Best Rap Album, and it was a genuine surprise as it wasn’t the strongest nominee against the others. However, we take it in stride as it has been a time long-coming. King’s Disease was deserving, and it helps fuel Nas on the follow-up King’s Disease II. And if we’re going to be direct, this is some of his best work since 2012’s Life Is Good. King’s Disease II improves on the problems of its predecessor, primarily the consistency between his solo work and trying to mirror the new generation. Unfortunately, minimal redundancies and a poor verse from A Boogie Wit A Hoodie don’t deter King’s Disease II from being a great album.
Nas always has an arsenal ready to unleash within a beretta he calls the microphone. When Nas raps on King’s Disease II, he paints pictures like Van Gogh: articulate, direct, and vibrant. Nas has never been a singles artist, and his shift into commercialism over the last few years has never translated. Hit-Boy’s production brings the nuance that Nas needs to deliver his best work. His previous work with DJ Khaled felt half-assed and poorly constructed around Nas’ marketing ploys, from Hennessey to cigars.
The haunting, exhilarating, and refreshing nature of King’s Disease II proves that Nas and Hit-Boy have developed a strong bond like Freddie Gibbs and Madlib or DJ Premier and Guru. The fluidity stands out as it has been a while since Nas has had a producer who understood his directions and dictations. From the smooth bubbles of “YKTV” to the distinguishing jazz-rap on songs like “Composure” and “Rare,” we hear Nas finding comfortability in the varying BPMs. Hit-Boy doesn’t produce the whole album by himself, bringing along Jansport J to add a few notches on two songs.
Hit-Boy’s production fixes issues that befall the album, like the outcome you’d expect from new rappers. On the decadent “YKTV,” New York singer-rapper A Boogie Wit A Hoodie delivers a show-stopping performance that leaves you in disarray. A Boogie is off-key and doesn’t add anything worthy to commend. Unfortunately, YG can’t save the day as it closes, but it isn’t hard to outperform A Boogie. It is like “Brunch On Sunday,” where Californian singer-rapper Blxst feels redundant on the chorus. It took a minute to realize it wasn’t Don Tolliver delivering a stripped-down vocal performance. It would have been more effective, as his background vocals on “Death Row East,” which helps build its haunting atmosphere.
After starting strong, Nas tries to make a drill song with “40 Side,” but he doesn’t feel comfortable since he can’t evoke that same energy an artist like Bizzy Banks can. However, Nas reels us back with a remix to the song “EPMD” from Judas and The Black Messiah. To Nas’ credit, he consistently reels you back in after delivering poorly. “EPMD” features EPMD, who haven’t traded bars since PMD’s 2017 album, Busine$$ Mentality. Unfortunately, you shouldn’t expect the most profound work as both artists are past their prime, and thus, we receive what works for the song. Eminem isn’t the best lyricist today, but he makes sure he delivers by pushing his strengths in one direction. In this case, he plays rhythmic gymnastics and reminds us he is more than rhymes.
“EPMD” is a genuine surprise, like “Nobody,” which features Lauryn Hill. We heard her not long ago on a song with Pusha T, but she delivered a beautiful chorus instead of a verse. On “Nobody,” you’re left with your jaw-dropped as Lauryn Hill sounds like she hasn’t skipped a beat after all these years. It stands out, like most of the songs on this album. King’s Disease II channels varying themes that humble Nas’ views on the world and life. He creates contrasts like the violent and reflective “Store Run” and “My Bible” to the elegance success can bring with “Brunch On Sundays.”
But nothing stands out like “Death Row East.” The song recounts a time when the East/West coast beef hit a tipping point. Suge Knight and Tupac were close to monetizing the Death Row label on the East Coast, which caused tensions to turn into violence. Nas’ delicate attention to detail is the strength of King’s Disease II. On “Death Row East” recounts more than the territorial issues amongst both sides of the country and his attempt to squash any issues. It’s been 25 years since Tupac’s passing, and the way his death affected the hip-hop world was mind-shattering. Nas makes note, with delicate detail, about how he tried to dilute the violence and calm the situation between both sides, as the integration of gangs and hip-hop made it a dangerous world.
King’s Disease II is an improvement from its predecessor, despite being as equally memorable. The production consistently reels you in, and Nas reminds he has not taken a step back. Like Nas mentions on one of the few highlights: “I’m In Rare Form.” That notion is resonant throughout as Nas’ continuous prudent deliveries balance its weak points.