Nas is one of a few rappers whose claims to royalty hold merit. His latest album, “King’s Disease,” released on Friday, focuses on how far he's come as an artist and the idea that there’s not much left for him to conquer.
As a pioneer of a distinctively East Coast style of rap with politically conscious lyrics, Nas built his legacy.
In a career spanning nearly three decades, Nas has also expanded his reach beyond hip-hop and into avenues such as acting and venture capital.
However, “King’s Disease” is not a retirement album, instead it’s a celebration of a life that is full of success and excess, despite its humble beginnings and setbacks.
The album’s tracks are majestic, with excellent production spearheaded by Hit-Boy, a versatile new-school producer.
The result is an album that sounds like a bridge between two eras of hip-hop — the boom-bap beats and gritty samples that were hallmarks of New York rap in the ‘90s. The album also features 808 bass lines and rapid hi-hat sequences that call to mind today’s trap music.
Nas attempts to merge the many generations of hip-hop, while also incorporating modern terms and phrases. Hearing Nas, a child of the ‘70s, use the phrase “weird flex, but OK” brings a sense of lightheartedness to his album.
Nas is as conscious as ever and provides a lot to unpack in 13 songs. The album is well-paced, with a tracklist that logically flows from one song to the next and a healthy mix of track lengths.
Adding to its blended sound, the album has many features by today’s princes of hip-hop, including Big Sean and A$AP Ferg, as well as rising stars Fivio Foreign and Don Toliver.
This mashup of eras fully blossoms by the album's final track, “Spicy,” a ready-for-radio ode to wealth. Arguably the best track on the album, the song features two other generations of New York hip-hop stars, Fivio Foreign and A$AP Ferg.
Make no mistake, the sound is still quintessentially Nas, as he uses his storytelling skills to share tales of what it’s like living at the top with luxury car rides, designer clothes and lots of expensive alcohol.
He also reflects on Black life in America. The album’s lead single, “Ultra Black” is an upbeat celebration of Blackness and the enormous influence that Black people have had on American pop culture.
On “Til the War Is Won,” Nas and Lil Durk confront the struggles that Black women and families in America face, over a jazz sample from the soundtrack of “If Beale Street Could Talk.” But, the song misses the mark with only passing nods to the social movements that have gripped the country in recent months. Lil Durk raps: “Black Lives Matter, I’m for real, it do matter.”
Nas also undercuts the good points he has with a few misogynistic lines toward the end of “The Definition.” He references the Gayle King incident where she asked a legitimate question about the late Kobe Bryant’s complicated legacy: “Journalism or internalism / Shirley Chisolm wouldn't play the victim.”
Unfortunately for listeners, this type of casual misogyny that divides women into categories of good and bad is present throughout the album.
Compared to some of his fellow rappers, it is not heavily mentioned, and he calls women queens throughout the album. However, his definition of a queen is narrow, and he spends a larger than necessary amount of time on his hangups with women.
Perhaps most notably for a conscious rapper, a line about good mask breath is the only explicit reference to the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the economy, which harshly affects Black people and other people of color.
Nas does not owe anyone a further acknowledgement of the crisis, or that if he did it would help the situation. However, this omission speaks to just how far-removed kings can be from their subjects.