The knock on Nas has always been his beat selection. No one has questioned his pedigree as a premier MC for nearly 30 years- but some of the scattered beats from album to album have left listeners baffled. A lack of cohesion works for some rappers- and it’s certainly worked in part for Nas- as its been 27 summers since he blessed us with Illmatic, with plenty of hits and misses in between.
King Disease, his 13th album, is produced entirely by Hit-Boy, the California super producer behind huge joints from Kid Cudi, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Justin Bieber, and Kanye West. Hit-Boy’s focus is exactly what’s been missing from Nas’s catalog. The modern sounds vary from track to track- but Hit-Boy’s singular vision gives the project a bold, slick feel- without crossing over to cash in on a pop pot of gold.
Heading into the record you cannot help but notice the tracklist, featuring Don Tolliver, Anderson .Paak, The (original) Firm, Big Sean, and Lil Durk among others. Do we really need a Nas/Durk collab in 2020? The answer is yes. The features all play their part- molding a bold message of power and black excellence from end to end. Also, Foxy’s back and she’s hungry. That’s a scary thought.
At this point in Nas’s storied career, especially following the let down of 2018’s Kanye-produced Nasir, the stakes weren’t necessarily high for the Queens legend. King’s Disease would either hit or miss- chart high or get overlooked- and here we are. It feels great in 2020 to celebrate one of Nas’s strongest career milestones- expertly directed by Hit-Boy’s gorgeous production. Check the 1:27 mark of ‘The Cure” for a humbling reminder of how important Nas is to the culture, especially when served a menacing beat flip.
As we head towards November’s election, King’s Disease is an excellent vehicle to navigate the potential for another four years of violent and ignorant leadership. On the flip side, it’s also a record to play while championing for hope, change and unity in a country that feels broken at best. Throughout his career, Nas has never strayed from packing powerful messages into his work- and King’s Disease is no different. It’s high-brow hip hop at a time when we shouldn’t be forced to stomach more disposable clickbait.
Queens get the money.