Review: Nas, ‘Magic’

The Queens rapper demonstrates an immortal appetite for hip hop; a rap athlete forging a new prime three decades into his career.

Partnerships in rap have become a certainty. It only makes sense to double down on the rare chemistry when it’s found. With Hit-Boy, Nas has unlocked one of the most exciting alliances of the past three years, one that earned him his first Grammy and renewed critical acclaim. Just four months removed from King’s Disease II, Nas has released another album, his third produced by Hit-Boy, and lands on Christmas Eve without much warning.

Thirty years in and Nas is still handing career highlights, continuing to rejuvenate on his timely Christmas present dubbed Magic – a tight, nine-track feast that awes at every turn.

Photography: Mario Sorrenti

Magic is like an NBA star icing out his championship ring. It is part victory lap, part prep for the next season (“KD3 on the way, this just to feed the buzz,” he reveals on “Ugly”). Though treated like a transitional project, the quality rivals anything from King’s Disease 1 and 2, and at times is even better. The half-hour run time leaves no room for filler, carried out with finesse and a couple appropriate appearances from ASAP Rocky and DJ Premier. Its makeup could be likened to The Lost Tapes; a flex where even Nas’s B-sides are worth your time.

While Hit-Boy’s production in the King’s Disease series resemble summer rose beds, the mood on Magic is much darker, making for ruthless performances from Nas. Mafioso Nas returns on opener “Speechless”, one of the best Nas songs of the century, and the forewarning “Meet Joe Black”. He gets sinister on “The Truth” and the latter half of “Dedication”, pockets Nas rarely finds himself in but ones that bring out his best performances.

Nostalgia has been seeping through Nas recently. “Hollywood Gangsta” and “Wu for the Children” continue to reminisce, energy that is still welcome from a provincial figure like Nas. Just like most of Magic, the hooks on these tracks are understated. But it works because of Hit-Boy’s melodies and how fluid Nas’s flows are (aside from the choppy hook on “Wave Gods” and rapped riff on “Wu for the Children”, a song that doesn’t offer his best flows either).

Nas is already on the highest point of rap culture and has been for decades. Yet at 48 years old and fifteen albums deep, he is still in hot pursuit to be the best. The job felt done on August’s King’s Disease II, his most celebrated album since 2012’s Life Is Good. But Magic shows that Nas wants to be the main thought and the afterthought in hip hop conversations, grabbing attention even when it’s least expected

Nineties rappers rarely have a renaissance. For the past three years, Nas has defied the odds to knock loud on doors he already has the keys to. If Nas thinks he has more to prove, we’ll take it all day long.

8.5 / 10

Best tracks: “Speechless”, “40-16 Building”, “Dedicated”, “The Truth”