Months after the riotous King’s Disease II, Nas and Hit-Boy reunite for their third collaborative album in Magic; unfortunately, it is far from magical. Nas and Hit-Boy take a new approach oozing nostalgia for 90s Hip-Hop, with the delivery being 50-50. Hit-Boy is back in his bag and finding his path within these sonic complexions with slight modernizations. It rarely feels forced, and yet the album didn’t leave me hungry for more – take into account that King’s Disease III is on its way; Magic is just the interlude. It’s a complex view of Nas’ past through various topics – sometimes he uses it to keep his status in check and other times, to reflect different connotations of the term magic. Fortunately, Magic doesn’t skew away from its sonic and lyrical direction, but it also doesn’t feel like anything special. As hyped as one can be with new Nas for Christmas, it’s an album with few highlights that move the needle, and for the most part, it’s a bit dull.
To call a Nas album dull is rare; the last one was Nasir, and before that, 1999’s Nastradamus. So as Magic kept playing over and over again, only a few made an impact, while others took a minute to grasp me from Nas’ complex lyricism to Hit-Boy’s production, albeit treading familiar territory. Nas’ bravado is also on full display, giving us some stellar flows – it mirrors with Hit-Boy’s production. There isn’t an abundance of originality, as there are moments that have a lot of glamour to sound resonate of a time instead of feeling loose and free. It’s an album I wanted to enjoy more than I did, but sometimes its essence of claps and hi-hats doesn’t let Hit-Boy fully morph it into his sound. In the song “Wave Gods,” Nas proclaims that he and Hit-Boy are the new Gangstarr, and if you were to tell me DJ Premier produced this album, it’d be believable. It’s no knock to Hit-Boy since he eventually shows flashes, but he doesn’t distinguish himself from the pack.
“Wu for the Children” is one example of Hit-Boy divulging from the standard set of sounds from the 90s Hip-Hop folder on Pro Tools and creating a beat that blends nuances of soulful beats into a piece of blissful originality. It translates with Nas’ lyricism that focuses on themes of regret and acceptance – it’s a reflection of what-ifs and career parallels; in the song, Nas makes this comparison: “Me, Jay, and Frank White is like Cole, Drizzy, and Kenny” – Frank White being Notorious BIG. It is a reflection on how Nas views the next class of Hip-Hop heavyweights as he compares them to the former during their early prime. The way he weaves the story with fluid sequences brings value to his emotions, similarly like “Meet Joe Black.”
Nas has a safety net for particular flows, but occasionally he breaks from the mold. Like the previously mentioned “Meet Joe Black,” Nas’ emotions are heightened, giving us more impactful flows to boast his braggadocio-don’t-fuck-with-me attitude. Like the lyricism for most tracks, “Meet Joe Black” is full of great metaphors, allusions, and character-building as Nas lets an unknown artist or person know they should not mess with him. However, within the confines of tracks like “Meet Joe Black” and “40-16 Building,” Nas delivers unique bars. There’s the referential one in the former; he uses the surface-level concept of Meet Joe Black (the film) to signify he’ll kill you – it is a film about a man tortured by Death in the body of a young man (Brad Pitt). In the latter, he delivers some corny lines akin, specifically, in the chorus, which has Nas referencing cryptocurrency in a double entendre with the word crip.
Magic is a bit conflicting because there are rarely any tracks that hit at 100%. “40-16 Building” fumbles at times, and on “The Truth,” Nas relays a tried message that probably won’t hit as many people. It could be because it’s been a topic of conversation throughout the ages – i.e. young rappers painting images of fun and enjoyment from drugs, gang activity, and partying like crazy. It’s a mix of this and more, and the levels of which there emoted. Some people lived that life, and others perpetuate themselves to look hard, and that impact holds weight. Nas makes that known, but it doesn’t add anything to the conversation to move that needle. It’s what makes me feel that Magic could have shaved one or two songs to deliver a slightly better EP – the other track being “Ugly.”
Ultimately, you take what you are given, and that is an album with a lot of pluses and a good amount of negatives. It may not be as memorable amongst the pantheon of Nas albums, but there are enough highlights to keep that Nas hunger filled until King’s Disease III. Magic will hit accordingly for many fans, but it won’t for others, and they will feel what I did when listening to the album.