The King’s Disease series for longtime Nas fans has been nothing short of remarkable. After converging with Hit-Boy, Nas managed to shake his long-held title as worst beat selector while the duo emerged as one of the better producer/artist combinations in contemporary Hip Hop.
After the arrival of KD2 last August, Nas and Hit-Boy surprised fans with a follow-up album just in time for Christmas Day — Magic. The tightly sequenced, nine-song release was meant to tide fans over until King’s Disease 3 but easily fares as one of the more potent in the 48-year-old MC’s catalog.
Taking a page from his iconic debut album Illmatic, the LP is light on both filler and guests, with the sole features coming from A$AP Rocky and DJ Premier (”Wave Gods”), allowing Nas to maintain the spotlight.
Lyrically, Nas remains immediate and reflective as he touches on a variety of topics. The unmistakably paranoid “Ugly,” with its slightly off-kilter vibe, is focused on the dark cloud of violence and death that has always plagued humanity. As he reiterates it’s something that even fame or money can’t protect one from—and when someone’s in a financial position like Esco, it’s bound to cause consistent unrest. Referencing names such as Marvin Gaye (shot by his father in 1984), Big L (murdered by a childhood friend in 1999), Jam Master Jay and Young Dolph, he highlights the cyclical nature of it all.
Those examples also underscore the themes of betrayal that weave themselves into numerous other tracks, whether ominously noting it’s those closest to someone who will take their success the hardest on “40-16 Building” or working to expose fraudulent facades on “Truth” and “Hollywood Gangstas.” On the latter, specifically — which he dedicates to drill rappers — he references self-professed street warriors who rap more cap than a Lids location and, as a byproduct, walk around with goons for safety.
Without coming out and saying one should move smarter, he manages to subtly infer the point. Under the fiery grit of it all, there’s a sense he’s trying to steer a new generation of artists without being overbearing as an elder statesman, at least, compared to his Hip Hop Is Dead days.
“Wu Is For The Children” is a standout, with Nas appearing heavy-handed on artists who blame career shortcomings on others; it’s also a walk down memory lane for longtime listeners, as he ponders his missed opportunity with Notorious B.I.G. on “Gimme The Loot Remix,” touting himself, Biggie and JAY-Z as the Drake, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar of their time.
Hit-Boy’s production is grimey and refreshingly modern, giving the project vintage Queensbridge street-hop aesthetic without sounding dated. The album isn’t far removed from the formula that’s been working for the duo thus far. But by whittling the experience down to under 30 minutes, they’ve managed to make it more impactful, allowing for Nas and Hit-Boy to make their points and get out without overstaying their welcome. The formula closely resembles what worked for Freddie Gibbs and Alchemist on Alfredo, minus the cinematic touches.
King’s Disease felt like an attempt to finally put a proper exclamation point on a career most commonly hailed for a peak reached before Nas was old enough legally to drink, but what he ultimately crafted was a project capable of becoming a new context point for listeners — who would generally have used Illmatic as their example of his greatness (a fact he alludes to on “Wu for the Children”). While King’s Disease at times feels pandering and the sequel has some obvious lulls, Magic sidesteps those pitfalls. Nas and Hit-Boy’s chemistry has only grown stronger and Magic is another milestone as the legendary MC seems invigorated by the superstar producer’s commitment to giving him beats that fit his wheelhouse but don’t bore the listener.
Magic may have had a slightly disappointing Billboard debut but upon pressing play, fans can quickly hear that isn’t the aim. Nas has absolutely nothing to prove. He could never rap again and still be considered the G.O.A.T. by some. And that’s what makes his recent run so special.
Without any pressure or constraints, Nas is free to speak his truth and tell stories like a wise sage without a care in the world. Much in the same way he was able to capture his reality so vividly in the early ’90s, he’s come full circle and is able to show growth, share hindsight and impart hard-learned lessons without losing listeners with abstract, unrelatable wealth like JAY-Z or with an overly bitter tone like Eminem.
Despite how direct the lyricism is, it plays like two friends riffing in the studio and building off each other’s energy; listeners can hear how much Nas loves what he’s doing. The fact Hip Hop fans are getting appetizers of this caliber to hold us over until an inevitable third entry in the series is, in itself, Magic.
Can't stop listening to that
Nas – Magic album is 🔥🔥🔥🔥
— 👇🏾NAPPY N£Y – 🦅 (@Nehemi23) January 7, 2022
Took a break from listening to Nas' Magic and the songs are now ringing in my ear. Especially that Hollywood Gangsta beat #NasMagic
— FreeLurkyMe2🇸🇱🇩🇰 (@FreeLurkyMe2) January 5, 2022
— ReV (@KingFuseLit) December 25, 2021