Let’s start with the most obvious thing for hip-hop fans or casual observers: Nas dropping his fourth album in two years is pure insanity. This is the guy who famously dropped “four albums in 10 years” during the ’90s, six albums (including a double LP) during the 21st century’s first ten years, and only showed up twice during the 2010s. But those two times made sense. He seemed more focused on taking well-deserved career victory laps, making lucrative investments, and watching his kids go from one phase to the next in their own lives. Was there anything left for Nas to do?
Then he met Hit-Boy, and everything changed.
2020’s King’s Disease triumphantly announced their partnership with soul samples, jazz loops, and even a family reunion with The Firm. 2021’s King’s Disease II improved the formula and proved the first time was no fluke. Magic illustrated how prolific their pairing truly was. As of Friday, November 11th, we’ve got Disease III, their most focused and confident collaboration. King’s Disease III is Michael Jordan shooting a free throw with his eyes closed, just because. At this point, there aren’t any more challenges left for the legendary MC and his producing partner-in-crime.
This is Nas’ best rapping performance in quite some time, which is saying something considering the last two years. Nas experiments with flows, rhythms, and cadences with a confidence not seen from him since the last Chicago Bulls three-peat. Whether it’s the second verse on “Ghetto Reporter,” the relaxed double-time flow on “30,” switching speeds on “I’m on Fire,” or combining rhythms on multiple songs whenever Hit Boy switches up the beat halfway through, Nas is on one.
His flow never lacked, but he rarely colored outside the lines prescribed by fans, critics, or producers. He no longer sounds like an MC carrying the weight of an entire project on his shoulders because, inevitably, some of the production might let him down. Hit Boy’s presence gives Nas the confidence to let loose regarding flow and subject matter.
“Thun” reveals he and JAY-Z occasionally joke about their beef (“No beef or rivals, they playing ‘Ether’ on TIDAL/ Brothers can do anything when they decide to/ In a Range Rover, dissecting bars from ‘Takeover’/ Sometimes I text Hova like, ‘N***a, this ain’t over,’ laughing,”). He tackles critics who call him hypocritical for making songs like this and “I Can”: “Speaking unity for years but face scrutiny/ He weird, one day Esco be rapping ’bout shootin’ me/ Next day he say, ‘And I can,’ be been confusin’ me/ Don’t wet that, I advise you to mind, I don’t just rap.”
And then there’s “Beef,” a song where Esco raps from the perspective of the ever-encompassing drama that puts friend against friend, block against block, or country against country. While not quite the level of “I Gave You Power” — a very high bar — the song acts as a semi-sequel. “I Gave You Power” examines guns as a symptom, while “Beef” explores the sickness. The joint comes off corny or preachy in the wrong hands. But Nas’ career experience combined with Hit Boy’s smooth beat creates an entertaining and thoughtful listen.