Nas – King’s Disease III: Review

Expected, but when? That was the question following the release of King’s Disease II by Nas & Hit-Boy. As we were aware, Nas was too, letting us know on the opening track, “Ghetto Reporter,” spitting the line: “Niggas know I don’t drop this often so cherish it (So cherish it).” With King’s Disease III out now, it makes one feel blessed as a fan with their release of Magic, as it now feels more of a present to them because the third King’s Disease is the best of the trilogy. Nas is as raw and lyrically astute as his best work, reminding the world that the tank is never emptying and the Henny bottles never end. But as you hear Queens in the House throughout “Thun,” you’ll quickly learn the mark King’s Disease III leaves. Nas shows listeners the pristine condition that his motor remains behind the mic and pen. Past King’s Disease albums saw Nas beautifully acquiescing with the evolving sounds of Hip-Hop and implying his talent is akin to a king able to command the flow of society. King’s Disease III has Nas taking off his crown, showing us his ferocity as he sways from humbling riches to elegant ammo, and that ammo is never-ending.

Without sputtering and then asking for oil, Nas goes on a tear throughout without seeming to tire out mentally with his verses because Nas is bearing slight shortcuts with the choruses, which don’t come off with the same energy as the verses. But Nas is one to quickly return with crisp bars that fluctuate between humbling riches, toying with history, and a barrage of metaphors and slick wordplay to keep you engaged. At one point playing coy with Jay-Z on “Thun,” as Nas relays the lines: “In a Range Rover, dissectin’ bars from “Takeover”/Sometimes I text Hova like “Nigga, this ain’t over,” laughin.’” But this is only a sampling of what Nas brings to the table. There are unique allusions to his partnership with Hit-Boy on “Michael & Quincy” and engaging takes on the social-political climate with “Recession Proof,” which doubles as advice to his listeners about investing and saving.

However, none of this exists without Hit-Boy’s production, which adds subtle details to the beats that allow them to transition from one to the other while keeping it interesting, like on “Legit.” “Legit” incorporates live acoustic crowd noises to amplify Nas’ bravado – that stoic confidence that allows him to feel rejuvenated and fresh despite age. There are inflections of streetwise boom-ba – ala Boogie Down Productions and Craig Mack – centered jazz rap, and varying type beats influenced by 90s Nas, with Hit-Boy shifting the parameters for Nas to go hard on them. He’s able to deliver past the nevers; one minute as is rapping through this delicate take on late 90s New York rap, which incorporated more Soul and R&B, in “Hood2Hood,” and another, he’s rapping over this luscious boom bap beat on “First Time.” Like “Reminisce,” Nas gets introspective, giving us a sense of blissful nostalgia as he recounts the first time he listened to certain favorite artists. Despite laying a foundation, Nas brings mirroring relativity to his listeners without feeling tacky or gimmicky.

Unfortunately, as glowing as I’ve been with King’s Disease III, the choruses aren’t as strong. It’s something you might have to set aside mentally because they aren’t consistent. Some aren’t as creative or have energizing gravitas, but pushing the weaker ones aside, allows for a more transcendent experience as the music eclipses these hollow points and makes you forget about them for a second. It left me in a daze after a few spins, and that’s what Nas aims for, a legacy of records spinning with fresh content no matter the era. So whether it’s the drab, emotionless chorus on “I’m on Fire” or lacking energy like on “Get Light,” Nas approaches the hooks as simple bridges that aren’t supposed to be ear-popping, like how the borough bridges are eye-popping, but they get the job done. That isn’t to say he doesn’t have some spectacularly hyphy hook delivery, like on “30” and bonus track “Till My Last Breath,” which has visceral energy that encourages the inner New York within.

King’s Disease III sees Nas continuing to extend his prime, delivering heater after heater without the support of features and amounting to one of his most immaculate albums since 2012’s Life is Good. Hit-Boy produces sounds that flip between modern, large-scale Hip-Hop beats and ones that bring nuance to the influential elements of 90s Boom-Bap/Jazz Rap, amongst others. It all acquiesces into one strong gavel to the table as Nas makes an everlasting statement about his lasting legacy that will only grow more, especially with the consistency of the King’s Disease trilogy, where Nas assimilates and demolish Hip-Hop sub-genres momentously.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Nas & Hit-Boy – Magic: Review

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.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.