King’s Disease (released August 21, 2020)
In the world of rap, it’s No Country for Middle-Aged Men.
A few days ago in the Soul In Stereo Cypher, we debated the frustrations that come with being an aging veteran. Because hip-hop is so tied to youth culture, it seems that no matter the talent, once an artist makes one too may trips around the sun, they’re written off as old, irrelevant or “washed.”
That last one is a fate worst than death on Hip-Hop Twitter.
There are outliers of course – Jay Z’s financial success and marriage to the world’s biggest pop star have made him bulletproof, and Uncle Snoop Dogg is pretty much pop culture in the flesh – but it’s frustrating to see other genres revere actual senior citizens like Willie Nelson and the Eagles while anyone 35+ in hip-hop gets regulated to the Washed Assisted Living Facility.
That’s a shame, because with wisdom comes experience. Nasir Jones has something to say.
Despite dropping one of the best rap albums of the past decade – 2012’s Life is Good is infamously the last time I gave a 5-star review in any genre – his more recent efforts have been met with shrugged shoulders. I thought 2018’s Nasir project with Kanye West was full of promise and better than it got credit for, but it felt rushed and unpolished. Last year’s Lost Tapes 2 was a step up, but admittedly just a collection of previously unreleased tracks, feeling more like a glimpse into Nas’ past instead of a window into his future.
But like all great veterans, Nas listened and learned. King’s Disease, his 13th studio album, atones for the sins of his last two projects, in large part to producer Hit-Boy. Nas and Hit-Boy prove to have incredible chemistry together, giving Esco the focus and cohesion that Nasir needed, while also providing the updated sound that Lost Tapes 2 lacked.
Hearing Nas maraud over the dusty soul of the title track just feels RIGHT. “I made the fade famous, the chain famous/QB on my chest match the stainless/Amazing Grace, I’m gracefully aging” – Nas is well aware of his legacy; he’s one of the architects and isn’t going anywhere.
Twitter might be losing its mind over the throwaway Doja Cat “diss” on “Ultra Black,” but as usual, the trending topics miss the real story. Nas is no stranger to speaking on Black empowerment and that continues here, an energetic love letter to all things blackness. From reminiscing about Sanford and Son to Essence and blaxploitation flicks, he lays the groundwork for his son to embrace his legacy and carry the torch: “My son’ll be my resurrection/Constantly learnin’ lessons, I never die, you get the message?” We don’t die, we multiply.
It’s funny how the same rivals who mocked him for “tryna kick knowledge” 20 years ago are now on the woke wave themselves. Glad y’all caught up.
“Blue Benz” features the same elite storytelling that has defined Nas since the days of Illmatic, a trend that continues with “Car #85,” with Nas and Uncle Charlie Wilson gliding across the beat while Esco waxes poetic about his taxicab confessions. Drive slow, homie.
As I mentioned earlier, Nas clearly attempts to bridge the age gap on King’s Disease by enlisting a few of the game’s hottest new stars for assistance. The results are … kinda mixed.
Nas doesn’t mesh well with Don Toliver and Big Sean on “Replace Me,” feeling more like a guest on his own track. “Till the War is Won” works a bit better with Lil Durk, though his robo-vocal affects are not my cup of tea. “Spicy” with A$AP Ferg and Fivio Foreign is a much cleaner fit, with Nas switching up his cadence to match more modern stylings. It works. “All Bad” with Anderson Paak is the brightest gem of them all – Paak’s hook steals the show as Nas details the downfall of his relationship.
But, of course, the biggest story of this album is the reunion of the Firm – and I’m talking the original members, AZ, Cormega and Foxy Brown with a Dr. Dre cameo, too! “Full Circle” lives up to its name with everyone bringing their A-game. It made me chuckle to see Twitter losing its mind over AZ’s blistering verse. Um, that’s what he does; he’s another all-time great with a 5-star debut album to his name. Mega brings the heat too:
For better or worse, every blessing and curse
Understand exotic sands come after the dirt
I was dealing since adolescent
Thinking my girl was my possession
I stand corrected
It takes understanding and affection
Time is money, I need growth for my investment
Those type of bars only come with age and maturity.
And I have to shout out Foxy for being as raucous and nasty as ever. “First lady, n****, Bonnie for real/P**** power like Tasha pushed Tommy to kill.” This “WAP” life ain’t new, y’all.
While many of his contemporaries make poor attempts to mask their age in an attempt to remain relevant
Nas uses King’s Disease to flaunt his OG status, offering insight while educating listeners on looking beyond the surface, moving in silence and respecting the culture (ex: “King, Michael Jordan gives back and you didn’t know it/Like LeBron does, but it’s just seldomly shown,” from “10 Points”).
Is King’s Disease flawless? Certainly not. Is it relevant? Absolutely, and that’s this album’s greatest victory.
Nas washed? Never that.
Best tracks: “Ultra Black,” “King’s Disease,” “All Bad”
4 stars out of 5