Review Summary: The crown still fits.Magic
was Nas’ final nail in the coffin for that “He’s not relevant anymore!” argument. Coming off the back of his successful resurgence via King’s Disease II
, the emcee immediately returned to the studio and cranked out nine bangers without breaking a sweat. It simultaneously functioned as an exclamation point for this new era—a clear statement that Illmatic
does not and will never encompass the entire body of work Nas has constructed, ups and downs included, and those still using it as a measuring stick needed to relax. Jumping from there to yet another project in the rapper’s lengthy and prolific career feels like a victory lap. King’s Disease III
is the sound of a confident Nas that has found a new rhythm he’s comfortable in, which is doubtlessly in large part due to his recent collaborations with producer Hit-Boy; the two seem to draw the best traits out of each other, with Nas’ rejuvenated pen game proving the ideal match for the heavily East Coast, old-school boom bap flair that Hit-Boy provides to the party. Now on their fourth cooperative LP, the duo has become a lethal force in the rap world, and this latest might be the team’s best yet.
Although nearly twice the length in both minutes and number of included tunes, King’s Disease III
is no less consistent than its predecessor, instead maintaining a remarkable level of cohesion between separate numbers. The variety of beats that Hit-Boy inserts boosts this considerably; the producer can shift styles through slick transitions that are comfortably under Nas’ familiar umbrella, all the while avoiding jarring escapades that cause the record to lag or otherwise lose its momentum. A song like “Legit” can juggle two such changes on its own, developing from a bass beat with soul vocals ringing out on top to a dazzling piano and a driving drum loop. Similarly, “Michael and Quincy” –an homage to the singer/producer combo of Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones—morphs from ethereal synths and record scratches to more beat switches that keep pace with Nas’ diverse flow patterns. In many instances, Hit-Boy mirrors the mood of the lyrical content to suit Nas' consequential delivery. The antagonism depicted in “Beef” comes coated in a gritty, warbling bass and ominous electronics, and the nostalgic contents of “Reminisce” is drenched in glittering synths. Every track inevitably possesses a certain 90’s sensibility, be it the dreamy instrumentals or relatively stripped-back approach, but with a suitably modern overhaul that makes King’s Disease III
sound very relevant to current trends.
The other half of this partnership is certainly not caught slacking; Nas’ wordplay and versatility are well up to par. Aforementioned cut “Michael and Quincy” features the emcee flawlessly altering his rhyming and delivery on a whim, gliding through the beats with his trademark intensity buttressing his verses, whereas the conclusion of “Reminisce” has him take a stab at rocking contemporary drill music. He’s even capable of kicking back and dealing a smooth, traditional party pleaser in “Get Light,” using his copious amounts of swagger to navigate an up-tempo pace and upbeat, jazzy arrangements. Such ventures would be incomplete if not for Nas’ writing talent, which finds itself at its most inspired in years. Part of this is due to the famed rapper coming into his role as an elder statesman of hip-hop—something Magic
delved into that has now been brought the forefront. His lyrics have become thoroughly introspective in response, taking either the form of classic braggadocio in the rousing confidence of “I’m on Fire” or the more reflective proceedings of “Hood2Hood.” How these feelings are expressed can be incredibly entertaining, either due to their cleverness—carrying the end syllable of “one” in “Hood2Hood’s first verse, “How did I become number one? / I'm one-of-one / Flyin' down the 101, right under the Cali' sun / Junior M.A.F.I.A. out the subs, shorty calling me "Son"—or their pure emotional value, such as the following from the somber “Once a Man, Twice a Child”:
By the time you see the stars in the skies, they already burnt out
Same way these dudes be shinin' but been burnt out
But we don't change, as we get stuck in our ways
We just act like we agree so we can end the exchange
What's meant for you is sent to you
But you could be the problem, it's not always them my dude
Was she crazy before you met her or you made her crazy?
Possibly she gon' be a nurse when you back to a baby
King’s Disease III
is full of these nuggets of wisdom Nas draws from his lengthy career. Now having reached nearly three decade’s worth of experience in the rap game, he’s seen enough to both call out bullsh*it and to reassure those entering into the genre themselves. In one instance, he makes the very concept of beefing into a person and deconstructs it (the aptly-named “Beef”), lamenting that much violence could be avoided if fellow rappers emphasized making peace over outdated toughness. Meanwhile, in “Recession Proof,” Nas encourages aspiring artists to put faith in their own abilities and bet on their personal success, as any given individual can truly only trust themselves at the end of the day. No matter the subject matter, Nas can imbue it with tangible emotion befitting the verses he lays down, transforming from the wizened sage of rap to a wistful observer of the passing times. There’s bottomless appeal to how he approaches any given track both lyrically and vocally, and the previously discussed foundation constructed by Hit-Boy is delightfully diverse. In the massive catalog of the famous Queens emcee, King’s Disease III
feels like a beautiful summation of Nas’ new era: a delicately melancholic, nostalgic, yet outstandingly modern take on classic hip-hop portrayed with charming boastfulness or layered emotional depth. It is as much a reflection of its creator and the scene around him. There’s no one better to paint the picture than the man who started it.