On King’s Disease II, Nas and Hit-Boy show that sequels can be better than the original, reinstating Nas as a cross-generational Midas.
Most 90s rappers never grow new life into their careers. Nas is one of the few to make it out with everlasting relevance. After the acclaimed 2012 album Life is Good, Nas remained dormant for six years, returning in 2018 as a casualty to Kanye West’s superfluous Wyoming sessions. But the decade turnover saw the rapper team up with producer Hit-Boy on King’s Disease, earning Nas’ first Grammy of his career for Best Rap Album. A year later, the duo spin the block for a sequel, its tracklist and cover reminiscent of believable but unbelievable fan-made albums that dominated internet discussions in the early 2010s.
Modern yet vintage, King’s Disease II sees Nas reaching his twenty-eighth summer proving he has successfully carried out his rap renaissance.
Forever catching up with the times, Nas has finally found focus on how to blend eras. He may not say it, but Nas is conscious of proving the doubters wrong. With Hit-Boy under his wing, Nas proves he does not need the beseeched DJ Premier or Pete Rock-produced albums to make a mark (even though we would still dearly want those). Just like its predecessor, King’s Disease II follows the thoughts of a man who’s nurtured a privileged position of kicking back in his chair, wine glass in hand, observing and reflecting as a rap historian. “I been on fire four generations”, he says on album intro “The Pressure”, words of affirmation that are backed up by the strength of KD2.
The album follows a gratifying structure of pleasing two audiences. Its first six tracks carry trap production and the rest indulges in modern jazz flavours. Strategically placed, younger hip hop fans that have grown up on trap and are unfamiliar with Nas can easily immerse into the album, while Nas’ typical listeners are rewarded in the second and third legs. But the true winner is a fan that’s a middle child of both styles. Nas impressively surfs over tracks like “Rare” and “40 Side”, his voice still sounding youthful as ever which allows the synergy to exist.
Plenty credit goes to Hit-Boy, who erases the myth of Nas working with bad production. He brings balance between the modern and the vintage, learning from the flat touches of King’s Disease to now offer catchier melodies and plenty beat switches to direct Nas’ energy. Production on “Store Run” and “Moments” sound expensive, bringing the exact flavours that Nas’ 90s producers would have. He knows when to turn down the volume (“Count Me In”), and when to ensure Nas is rapping comfortably in his element (“Composure”). Such chemistry is rarely seen in mainstream hip hop nowadays.
The palette of guest vocalists also contribute to KD2‘s ease in blending eras. As stated on “Moments”, Nas “embrace new leaders” through features such as A Boogie wit da Hoodie, YG and Blxst. But ears perk up most on tracks involving fellow legends. Nas enlists Eminem for their first ever vocal collaboration on the remixed “EMPD 2”, alongside the referenced EPMD’s Erick Sermon and PMD. It is a revitalised rendition of the original that takes the track to new heights. A rare Lauryn Hill verse emerges on “Nobody”, who expertly hits home the track’s theme of avoiding celebrity fame, sparking an epiphany for the listener as to why she refuses to release more music (“They tried to box me out while takin’ what they want from me / I spent too many years living too uncomfortably”).
Nas’ own lyrical observations turn up on “Death Row East”, recounting his relationship with Tupac and the damaging rift between the East and West Coast. It is not Nas in peak storytelling form, but he still manages to paint a thought-provoking picture. On “My Bible”, Nas lays down three verses that break his perspectives on men, women and children like Biblical scriptures. It’s a testament to Nas’ pen being constantly damp with the ink of creativity, forever seeking new metaphors to evolve his songwriting.
Amidst the consistency are tracks that come and go without blemishing the tracklist. “Brunch on Sundays” is the album’s weakest moment, relying on a vexed hook and a theme that’s too niche for its own good. “YKTV” does not offer an element of chemistry between the trio, though Nas does give us comical food for thought with the line “Imagine Lil Uzi on a Preemo beat”. These songs manage to fit in amongst the album, yet are unwelcome reminders of the weaknesses of King’s Disease.
At this stage of his career, Nas has mastered the nuance of blending the new age of hip hop with his vintage, reflective touch. Hit-Boy treats production duties like an exam, passing with flying colours. With a project that surpasses half of Nas’ catalogue, the album’s final track name can be interpreted in more than one way.
8 / 10
Best tracks: “Composure”, “Nobody”, “Rare”, “40 Side”, “Store Run”, “EPMD 2”, “Death Row East”