Nas – ‘King’s Disease II’ review: rapper embraces his status as a genre great

This dizzying victory lap boasts effervescent moments from Eminem and Lauryn Hill, but even they're overshadowed by the main man's emotional candour

Nas is living his best life right now. The Queensbridge rapper’s trademark shy smirk has been recently replaced with a gleaming smile that has appeared more and more across his social media channels, his visibility at an all-time high. Recent pictures of him decked out in a luxurious silk short set, standing on the lawn of a lavish chateau, cigar in hand, toasting to the good life, oozes newfound contentment. This coincides with a fresh burst of creativity, resulting in the release of ‘King’s Disease II’, a sequel to last year’s highly acclaimed ‘King’s Disease’, which bagged the rapper his first-ever Grammy (for Best Rap Album).

Over the course of his almost 30-year career, Nas has released 13 studio records. Only twice has he released two in the space of a year; the results have been a mixed bag. But with ‘Kings Disease II’, he has delivered a masterpiece of monolithic measures, completing arguably the best two-volume series in hip-hop. At the age of 47, the one they call God’s Son is at the peak of his powers – and he’s enjoying every second of it: “Ice in my veins, I make it look easy,” he raps on the album’s sumptuous lead single, ‘Rare’.

He’s teamed once again with producer Hit-Boy, and the pair appear to have found themselves a collaboration cheat code; they are armed with a kind of chemistry that doesn’t come around all too often. ‘King’s Disease II’ sees Nas with a fully-charged battery in his back, comfortably manoeuvring his way through a collection of dirty breakbeats, sped-up soul samples and cinematic soundscapes. Whether it’s the shimmering keys on the introspective ‘Moments’, the dusty groove of ‘Count Me In’, or the breezy backdrop on ‘Brunch On Sundays’, the King of Queens makes everything look so easy.

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Even when Hit-Boy switches up the production in favour of something closer to contemporary trap, Nas isn’t thrown off his axis. On ’40 Side’, a cautionary tale of hometown pride, Nas, an OG, imparts wisdom on the youth (“I can send n***as a slide/ I’d rather show them the ropes”), his pep talk peppered with hazy synths and rapid-fire hi-hats, while a Lil Baby sample rides shotgun. The brief sonic excursion continues on ‘YKTV’, where Nas – alongside A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and YG – brags about the many spoils of his opulent lifestyle over an earsplitting, bottomless bass.

For ‘EPMD 2’, Nas enlists the help of Eminem as well as the track’s legendary namesake. While it’s not the first time they have worked together (Em produced 2002 track ‘The Cross’), it is the first time Nas has rapped alongside the real Slim Shady. An explosive collaboration ensues, although Em, a self-confessed hip-hop nerd, evidently excited at the prospect of sharing a beat with genre royalty, starts off a little shaky, spewing out random bars about Father Christmas and birth control.

After this erratic giddiness subsides, Em finds his rhythm and gives out flowers to some of rap’s greats and pays tribute to those we’ve lost. Towards the end of his lengthy verse, the beat switches from luminous gloss to massive eruption, at which point Em acknowledges his own mortality: “I hit 50 via text / Told him that I love him ’cause I don’t even know when I’ma see him next / Tomorrow could be a death.”

Another standout collaboration sees Nas reunite with Lauryn Hill for a rare rap verse on the thought-provoking ‘Nobody’. The former Fugees frontwoman – who first collaborated with Nas on the genre-defining 1996 anthem ‘If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)’ – is sparse with her bars these days, but after the lyrical masterclass displayed on this glistening, esoteric gem, she may want to reconsider curbing this part of her repertoire. “I’m savin’ souls and y’all complainin’ ’bout my lateness / Now it’s illegal for someone to walk in greatness,” Ms. Hill raps, addressing previous criticisms about her tardiness, pointing out that she’s more concerned with helping the people.

As impeccable as both tracks are, neither stand as the album’s most grandiose moment. That accolade goes to ‘Death Row East’, where Nas shares a raw and very candid account of his feelings regarding the infamous East Coast/West Coast war. Recalling his personal involvement in the beef and his fallout with the late 2Pac, Nas reveals that he and ‘Pac were in the process of patching things up before his murder in 1996. “Everything I know now, wish I knew back then,” he admits, before a soundbite of radio host Ed Lover announcing 2Pac’s death in the middle of a Nas show closes the track, guaranteeing goosebumps for any rap aficionado.

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With the weight of the world finally off his shoulders, Nas appears more focused than ever before. Choosing to bask in his success, count his wins, and project the same type of energy on the rest of the world, he makes his stance clear in the closing seconds of the album’s final track, ‘Nas Is Good’: “Death to the pessimistic mindstate / Lack of hope low-spirit motherfuckers / Life to kings getting a king’s ransom, living handsome.”

Details

Release date: August 6

Record label: Mass Appeal

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