Some legends have a rockier road than others. Nas is one of those legends. While Illmatic, Stillmatic, It Was Written, and possibly God’s Son are universally considered to be classic pieces of hip-hop history, Nas has many misses to his name. Albums like Street’s Disciple and Hip-Hop is Dead spawned cool singles (“Moment of Silence,” “Thief’s Theme,” “Can’t Forget About You,” “Black Republicans”), but overall they were forgotten by the masses. Then we have albums like I Am and Nastradamus which missed the mark with critics and fans alike. And let’s not forget the Kanye West-produced Nasir, which was too short for anyone to form a solid opinion on it as a whole.

The roller coaster ride that is Nas’ discography left many fans wondering what would come of his new album. Luckily, it feels as if Nas carefully studied his successes and his losses before putting the pen to the pad for King’s Disease. His latest project was produced in its entirety by Hit-Boy, who boasts an extensive list of hits under his belt, including “Niggas in Paris” by Jay-Z and Kanye West, “Sicko Mode” by Travis Scott and Drake, “Racks in the Middle” by Nipsey Hussle and Roddy Ricch, “Clique” by GOOD Music, “Sorry” by Beyoncé, and many more. Obviously, Nas was keenly aware of the ongoing speculation that infers he cannot pick a good beat to save his life. So this time around, Nas partnered with an instrumental genius, a beatmaker extraordinaire — and it paid off.

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On King’s Disease, the 46-year-old lyricist sounds revitalized and sharp. It’s notably apparent that Nas took a lesson from the younger generation, while still infusing the practices of the veterans. This is most evident on “27 Summers,” an addictive yet brief banger that finds him employing a slick and cocky slow flow. The hook sounds like something Drake might write, in cadence and iambic pentameter. “Matte black Rolls man I got em seeing ghost/ 27 Summers, that wasn’t even the goal,” spits Nas with a calming intensity that highlights the contradiction of the legend himself. His new school flavor can also be felt on “Spicy,” a track that is so New York I swear I bought a pair of Timbs after hearing it. Featuring Fivio Foreign and a scene-stealing A$AP Ferg, “Spicy” is an anthemic east coast knocker that sounds like an unsullied mix of ’03 Dipset and 2019 French Montana. The convergence of New York styles is so entertaining, you may find yourself doing the Bobby Shmurda dance when it drops. 

Still, with all the new school injections Nas and Hit-Boy infused into King’s Disease, its strongest moments are those rooted in traditional hip-hop aesthetics. The titular intro features an old school sample gorgeous in its repetitive loop. Nas opens the album with his typical woke style, rapping, “The stupidest part of Africa produced Blacks that started algebra/ Proof, facts, imagine if you knew that as a child, bruh.” Historically accurate and exceptionally nuanced, Nas’ wordplay and storytelling are both polished and perfected. Behind the boards, Hit-Boy understands when to swell the instrumental for excitement and when to pull back and prioritize the vocals. The duo’s chemistry is most apparent on “Ultra Black, which features an instrumental that forms over Nas’ flow like a fitted bed sheet. Tracks like “The Cure” and “Car #85” featuring Charlie Wilson also find strength in Nas’ penchant for storytelling. The former is a brilliant introspective look at Nas’ career from the mouth of the man himself, while the latter finds the Queensbridge representer reminiscing about his youthful days of lust and adventure. 

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The features on King’s Disease work exceptionally well. The Firm reunites on “Full Circle,” which also highlights a surprise verse from Dr. Dre. AZ finds a way to stand out like no other, delivering one of the best verses on the entire album. Sadly, Foxy Brown’s verse sounds like it was mixed in 1993, giving the song an eerie vibration when her vocals hit. Other than her awkward-sounding verse, The Firm reunion track is everything you would hope it could be. It would have been easy for Nas to pick a widely enjoyed “woke” rapper for “Til The War Is Won,” which is arguably the most inspirational and intellectual song on the album. Instead, Nas chose Lil Durk, a rapper that doesn’t necessarily fit that “woke” mold and gave him a platform to speak on the experiences he had in the hood. Lil Durk could have delivered a stronger verse overall, which suffers sometimes from lackluster bars. For example, “Got his car took, he ride with guns in the Uber/ I’m talking where we from, we carry MACs, but no computers” comes off as lazy and trite after such a strong start. Overall, “Til The Way Is Won” comes out as deep, powerful, emotional, and necessary in these times — regardless of the minor flaws.

Mr .Paak, who has a feature run that could rival J. Cole’s from last year, continues his amazing guest spot record on “All Bad.” This soulful record reflects on relationships but has a more profound feeling than “Replace Me,” which also tackles the same concept. To be fair, “Replace Me” leans more towards pride where “All Bad” leans more towards pain, but both color shades of relationship woes. The conceptual similarities force listeners to pick which song tackles the topic better, to which “All Bad” easily wins. Although Big Sean delivers a dope verse that reminds us why he’s lyrically dangerous, Don Toliver’s hook doesn’t capture the emotion as immaculately as .Paak’s does. In fact, Toliver’s chorus is outshined so heavily by Nas and Big Sean on “Replace Me” that it’s almost forgettable. 

It’s hard to find a true miss on this album. Unlike several past projects from Nas, King’s Disease lacks a moment where you can really sit back and say “let me skip this song.” It is the best Nas project since Stillmatic, and arguably a top 4 project from the veteran. As of now, it is being heralded among the best rap albums of the year so far, but does that mean Nas will finally earn that Grammy he has been robbed of all his career? With drops from J. Cole, Drake, Kendrick, and a few others heavyweights expected before the year is up, can Nas claim his kingship over 2020? Seeing as King’s Disease is the strongest project from Nas in almost 20 years, so our bet is on “yes.”

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