Nas’ Comeback Solidifies his Place in the GOAT Argument


Photo by Asher Zumwalt

A record player and speakers next to the album cover for the vinyl of King’s Disease II by Nas.

Asher Zumwalt, Staff Writer

In the duration of Summer 2020 to the time of writing, hip-hop artist Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, better known by the name of Nas, or ‘Nasty Nas’ as he is sometimes referred to, has released four studio albums, all of which were incredible. 

While Nas may not be the most popular or well known rapper, as he tends to keep to himself and has been out of drama for a while, he is quite easily the most criminally underrated rapper ever. He may not be the biggest or most well known, but among the community, he is well respected. His name is not one particularly well known by people that don’t interact with the genre, in the way that big names in the industry have become large-scale celebrities, like Eminem or Kanye West. However, he beefed with Jay-Z, who is one of the most successful and well known rappers to ever do it, and in most people’s opinion came out, quite clearly, on top. He also released many classics earlier in his career that have had a huge impact on Black culture such as “If I Ruled the World” and “N.Y. State of Mind.” While from 2002-2018 he did release six studio albums, overall, these did not reach the same success or standards that people had come to expect from the name, as his music before and after this period is some of the best in the genre. 

Let’s begin with the first album released since 2020, King’s Disease. This is the first in what will later begin the trilogy of what will become classic hip-hop albums. This will be considered classic, old-school style hip-hop. King’s Disease stands out from other albums released in recent years because it feels old-school. Nas always has been and will be known for his old-school style but this is especially evident in this album. 

Even with the introduction of newer, younger, rappers on features like Lil’ Durk and Big Sean, it still creates a sound that is distinct from recent trends. He stays on brand with his maturity and wisdom and really brings the heat in that sense. While his immaculate lyricism has always been a strong point, he is separated from other lyrically talented rappers particularly by his wisdom. His life experience and knowledge of the struggle is so legitimate and so telling, that it leads to an inspirational understanding for the listener. 

This album peaks with the song “Ultra Black” (Feat. Hit-Boy). This track is a standout from the others because of its smooth, rhythmic flow, and how catchy the chorus is as well as the rest of the song. The rhythm and flow is infectiously captivating. This is head bobbing music at its finest. The general themes of the song are more energized and more exciting compared to others, which perfectly fits the overall message, which is Black power, being proud to be Black, and that Black is beautiful. As a Black man speaking on his experience growing up, there truly is a lot of negative things to say; however this song isn’t a negative one, it’s not a sob story, an angry song, or a narrative of difficult times, it is a refreshingly prideful song. The pride rightfully shown here, is well matched by his enthusiasm and excitement for the empowerment of his people. The entire album is most definitely worth a listen, especially so  if you are new to Nas and want to listen to something that keeps his classic, distinct style, and pairs it with new topics and ideas. And this aspect of the album makes it such a great opportunity for Nas to reconnect with the younger generation.

Following King’s Disease I, was actually not King’s Disease II, it was Magic. Nas released Magic in 2021, a time where the world was topsy-turvy, and as individuals we were all going through uncharted emotional territory, which was the perfect opportunity for Nas to tap into a more emotionally serious and contemplative style. Magic feels more personal to Nasir the man, as opposed to to Nas the rapper, beginning even with the cover art, which shows a picture of the rapper slightly echoed by another further away blurry face of himself. The effect seems to point to the dissociation between himself and his stage presence and maybe that he has still to find himself, even this far down the road. 

The whole album takes a slower pace in comparison to the King’s Disease trilogy. As always, he speaks to his hopes to help the community, but in direct comparison to the King’s Disease trifecta, he focuses more on messages pertaining to himself and his experiences, as opposed to his more prevalent speech towards the Black community in general. The topic of many songs for Nas is the world, society and racism, specifically that felt by Black people, but here, he speaks not to himself but about himself. He is the main topic of Magic. This is felt throughout the album and is overall a captivating insight not only to the true life of a famous musician but also someone who grew up poor, and had a difficult past. 

Now to talk about King’s Disease II. This album is phenomenal in numerous manners. It radiates a presence of luxury, riches, and status. This too begins with the album cover. The design is quite simple, a clear photo of Nas with an orange background. But there’s a certain je ne sais quoi to the effect it has in relation to the theme. Orange feels rich. Luxurious. The feel of this album is like sipping champagne in a hot tub, eating grapes while sitting on top of a throne, or celebrating a personal success with your friends, living life to the fullest and enjoying it to the fullest extent. Also, orange is seldom used in album covers especially to this degree. Luxury is a difficult theme to traverse when you also wish to stay humble, yet somehow Nas manages to have his cake and eat it too, in the metaphorical sense. 

Now it is necessary to mention that Nas is not a rapper that spends a lot of time bragging about his wealth, his success, his superiority; he simply isn’t that shallow. However he does indulge in luxury in the sense of a Black man finally achieving what he has. But song’s like “Rare” and “Brunch on Sundays” present the way he’s able to show his appreciation for his prosperity. These songs simply feel like success. He is at peace and at the top and it’s time to celebrate. But luxurious themes and the standout from his other work are not the only things worth noting about this album. He boasts an Eminem feature on the track “EPMD 2” which also features the rapper EPMD. This track is exciting, fast paced, and a bit angry. And not angry in the realm of DMX or Ice Cube, contrarily, Nas adamantly addresses injustice and even lists some ‘demands’ as he trades bars with EPMD together saying, “Give me a loan/Give me a home/Get me that land you owe me so I can roam/So when you trespass blaow! One in your dome.” Eminem returns with a similar fervor saying, “Livin’ in cramped conditions/We’ll give you ammunition/Stock them shelves/I got more shells like Taco Bell and I’m not gon’ fail”. They sort of treat this as a call to arms almost, protesting and criticizing serious issues which results in an incredibly fun, and hype track.

Finally comes King’s Disease III, an album that was released Nov 11, 2022. This album came with little promotion or advertisement which altogether led to a more exciting listening experience. Nailing home the conclusion of the King’s Disease run is an album filled to the brim with powerful songs. It’s difficult to explain how this album feels because it hits so many marks. “HOOD2HOOD” is about how while Nas may not be the most mainstream, his music is  played where he wants it to: the hoods, and later stated, mansions. “Once a Man, Twice a Child” speaks on his change and the lack of continuity throughout his life and career. He raps, “My old style is a rough of my new style” and “Take advantage of your life before you elderly/because todays the youngest you’ll ever be”. On “Recession Proof” he speaks to his belief that no one is safe from a falloff, something he often is given accusations of. But Nas has not fallen off. He may have had a small stumble, but he’s back and as good as he was in his prime. His prime, which debatably is back for another round.

This album traverses many topics and is very distinguishable in style from many other rappers. He manages to accomplish this all while being without a feature. All of the rapping on this album belongs to Nas alone. His sound and passion is unmistakable from any other artist. This album is another example, as are all of the aforementioned albums, of why rap absolutely is art, and this is an artistic masterpiece. This belongs in a museum and will go down in history as a classic album. One that is completely on par with those considered to be the pillars of the genre.