To put his unwavering stature in perspective: it’s been 27 whole summers since his holy grail debut Illmatic dropped.
Unfortunately, the iconic Hov bar, “One hot album every 10-year average,” has also proven to be an eternal talking point within the Queensbridge legend’s career. Fans (or antagonists?) have relentlessly hammered the Hip Hop luminary for a dicey beat ear that resulted in a handful of albums some heads probably don’t remember that well — and likely won’t revisit.
His latest LP King’s Disease is a defiant answer to whether he can still scale the lofty bar he set all those years ago. From commenting on timely topics like Gayle King and the GOP (see “The Definition”) to reuniting The Firm on “Full Circle,” he celebrates Black excellence and drops a plethora of gems along the way. King’s Disease is Nas living up to the hype more so than his last few releases. This is closer to the MC we’re referring to when, without thinking, we plaster his name atop any list related to rapping ability or best to ever do it.
With Hit-Boy at the helm for album No. 13, Nas and his beats seem entirely in tune with sparse instrumentation and subdued drum loops, giving plenty of runway for the lyrics to be center stage. The creative process seems more organized and thought out, allowing Nas to do all the things he’s good at, without embellishing any of them. Notably, he plays his familiar elder role without over-preaching — the song “10 Points” being an excellent example.
The highs are packed with the lyrical cinematic experience fans come to expect from a legend of his caliber. “27 Summers,” which is possibly the brightest (albeit shortest) moment on the LP, sees him lamenting on longevity while still being on the scene. “Smokin’ weed in a tux, sippin’ Ricard/Sitting on Governors Isle with all the killers/Premier movies with my man De Niro/And Johnny Nunez got all the pictures,” he flows. Likewise, the majestic “Car 85” takes listeners on a late-night drive through New York City without leaving the house.
However, the album isn’t bulletproof, leaving several cringe-worthy moments lingering in plain sight.
Appearing to throw his hat in the “cancel Doja Cat ring” on the debatable lead single choice “Ultra Black” overshadowed and muddled the bursting sense of Black pride and love message felt throughout the record. “We goin’ ultra-black, unapologetically black/The opposite of Doja Cat” he spits, only to later admit is was all in the spirit of rhyming is just wack.
Also, on the Lil Durk-assisted ode to single Black mothers, “Til the War Is Won,” he uses a “Never me” adlib regarding domestic abuse, which feels unnecessary, given the accusations his ex-wife Kelis forced him to answer to. While the topic shouldn’t be off-limits, we’re living in a time where we’re collectively trying to protect Black women and a more appropriate elaboration would have been appreciated.
Still, this album contains far more positive than negative qualities. While the few attempts at commercial fodder that reside on the tracklist, such as “Replace Me” with Big Sean and Don Toliver, are more good than great, Hit-Boy never allows the vibe to go off the rails (although the Fivio Foreign and A$AP Ferg TikTok-ready “Spicy” comes extremely close). All things considered, King’s Disease is just as much a triumph for the “Sicko Mode” producer as it is for Nas.
3G cellphone towers didn’t even exist when Illmatic dropped, and even Nas himself has moved on. We should all do the same as well. Twenty-seven years later, the now 46-year-old MC has managed to craft a body of work with the right ingredients to age into a modern classic. If this one happens to be his final full-length release, considering the other ventures on his plate, it’s a far more fitting closing to his saga than NASIR ever could be — and that’s something to be celebrated.