Every Friday, the same routine. New albums are released, people are stream and spill their opinions on social medias. So far, no worries. Since 2016 and the advent of streaming platforms, we are used to seeing reviews, sometimes too quickly given. This has to do with the abundance of projects available, like an idea of overconsumption that has spread in art. So, every week, the best album of the year is released. Hot reactions, one hour after listening to the latest releases are never very good, regardless of the work listened to.
This Friday, November 11, 2022. King’s Disease III, Nas’ fifteenth solo album was out. What do I find problematic around this release ? Social networks, and fans in particular, who two specific elements : a photo and 5 lines of one of the songs from the album. The photo ? The one of Jay-Z, historical rival of Nas, with his twenty Grammy Awards posted by a fan of Jay-Z, Nas having only one, subliminal shoot. The lines ? A passage from ‘Thun’ on which Nas reminds us that there were still things to say about their beef, even twenty years later. These two facts crystallized the main part of the debates and allowed to remember that there was a real tension between the 2 New York legends between 1998 and 2004. Since then, tensions have eased between them, which led Jay-Z to sign Nas to Def Jam during his presidency of the label. But the tensions between the fans have never calmed down. Each camp multiplying the arguments and the verbal contests to put forward its colt. The pics sent by the artists (or the fans), which in my opinion are only a kind of communication to talk about the product, have therefore added fuel to a very dormant fire. The rivalry between its two giants is no longer on the agenda, both having their names in the Hip Hop pantheon. Let’s just enjoy what the two MCs still have to offer without the goal of comparing and ranking them on a scale of greatness.
In 2022, communication and debates take place directly on Twitter, and Nas is the best rapper in history for many rap lovers, this Friday, November 11, at 9 a.m. I read the tweets dropping, anyway the 2022 grind looks good.
What makes the salt of this whole story is finally that the phoenix that rises from its ashes. Indeed, in 2018, Nas ends his contract of 4 albums with Def Jam by the Nasir project. This album is part of the “Wyoming Sessions”, 5 albums of 7 tracks each, by 5 different artists, entirely produced by Kanye West. Nasir was an ambitious project and not necessarily well understood by the rap public. At that time, artistically, Nas was in a kind of disgrace, he seemed to be at the end of his tether, without ideas. He faces the same flaws as he has for the last twenty years, the QB Finest doesn’t know how to choose his beats, and even Kanye West couldn’t save him.
What is Nas’ future musically, after more than two decades of being praised for his lyrical skills, but bashed for his beat selection ? The solution, he will find it with a producer from California, Hit-Boy. The latter had his moment of glory in the early 2010s, but his notoriety doesn’t seem as bright as in 2012. The choice may seem surprising but with a Hit-Boy finding a new lease of life, why not ? And it’s with him that Nas will find what he may have always lacked, namely, complete chemistry with his producer. With the masterpiece Illmatic in 1994, Nas was one of the first artists to call several different producers on the same album, and in 2020, at the twilight of his career, we see him back to entrust the artistic direction of his projects to a single head. From this promising duo will be born the King’s Disease trilogy and a surprise album, called Magic, at Christmas 2021. Four projects acclaimed by critics and the public.
Why does the alliance of the two artists work ? First explanation, Nas being at the bottom of the wave, his albums will no longer be as expected as before and he will be able to work for a less hyped and more mature audience. And rather than trusting record labels again (after Columbia/Sony Music and Def Jam), he will independently manage his distribution via his label, Mass Appeal Records. Nas is not going to dress up with fucking singles, the type of songs he never been able to pull off. What about Hit-Boy ? The producer is rather eclectic. He’s able to work on samples, to make more synthetic productions, more classic beats, beats more in the current Drill/Trap movement… In short, finally his productions seem to be able to fit in thoroughly with Nas and his desires. In the realization, it does, on each volume of his trilogy, there is mastery, Nas is at ease and finds a youth. Big guests share the microphone of Nasir : from Eminem to Cormega through Lauryn Hill and Lil Durk. It is finally as eclectic as Hit-Boy can be.
We can go back to what I said at the beginning of this post. Nas is one of the 5/10 best rappers to ever touch the mic, and this since his beginnings in the 90s. No new project that Nas can release from here on out will further enhance his position in Hip Hop history. He’s one of the best, has been and will remain so no matter what. It’s important to let the works mature and stop shouting classic as soon as the projects become available. Putting the cart before the horse is not beneficial to the artist, the public or the culture.
The four album run between Nas and Hit-Boy is good, very good, and it’s not easy to make a trilogy that holds up like the double album. The rap audience loves to see their idols still performing, almost 30 years after their debut, and other artists could learn from that. Go back to basics, type “I’m the rapper, he’s the DJ”. Fashion is an eternal restart but you have to recognize when it’s done in the right direction. This collaboration between the rapper and the producer may be coming to an end. I’m not sure this should continue. But I’m sure that with this new era of Nas, there are plenty of producers who could take over. And who knows, why not dream of that joint album with… Jay ?